“Yoshimi” Not Just Lip Service

Music Review

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots — The Flaming Lips

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The Flaming Lips, an American psychedelic rock group beginning in Oklahoma in 1983, is universally well known and has a diverse fan base across the years. Their discography, which includes a four-CD composition meant to be played on four different stereos and a track-for-track remake of Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of The Moon,” has reached an impressive 14 albums over the years, with a 15th coming sometime next year.

Their 2002 album, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” is a melancholic adventure through the eyes of a person witnessing a great battle between the titular girl Yoshimi and robots that are out to destroy the world. As odd as this concept may sound, only the first four songs on the album really focus on this story. The rest is more of a philosophical view of mortality, deception, and survival in a twisted world.

“Fight Test” begins with a steely robotic voice commanding that “The test begins… now!” as if to start the entire album and the story as a whole. Lyrically, it’s almost a bleeding heart cry from a pacifistic teenager who doesn’t want to grow up. It uses little guitar, mostly a distorted drum along with heavy synthesizers and singer Wayne Coyne’s sullen voice, with a chorus call of “I don’t know where the sun beams end and the starlight begins, it’s all a mystery,” driving the theme home. Fans of Cat Steven’s “Father and Son” will be sure to enjoy this track (in fact, Stevens received writer credit for the song due to the similarities).

As “Fight Test” fades into the next track, “One More Robot,” the focus switches to a robot that may or may not begin developing emotions for the plight of humanity. Coyne’s almost-detached voice is followed by light drums and faded guitar expressing the robot’s developing emotion. It is also more melancholic than “Fight Test,” almost a preview of the more philosophic nature of the album’s second half.

The title track, “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 1,” is next, and is more of an upbeat song, beginning with an acoustic guitar, complemented as always by a synth/keyboard combo. Coyne jovially sings about Yoshimi, a girl who is like a superhero to the unnamed city, fighting off the robots. Interestingly, the band uses the instrumentation to represent the robots with the synth, guitar, and drums reverberating and echoing to create an electronic sound, contrasting the humans being represented by Coyne’s singing. It creates the sense that there is a battle going on right in your ears.

Lead singer Wayne Coyne is well known for crowd surfing in a large inflatable ball during concerts. (Photo by The Washington Post)

“Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2,” a purely instrumental piece, follows right after with a chaotic blend of synth and drums that can only be described as a psychedelic trip in musical form.

“In the Morning of the Magicians,” is mostly instrumental and begins the melancholic streak of the album. It details the loss of the aforementioned battle by the humans, so it’s obviously slower and more downtrodden than Yoshimi Pt. 1. The ending lyrics give some hope, though—as Coyne details the break of dawn, the electronic rock epic gets a bit more upbeat with a harmony of instruments.

As the album slides more and more into the philosophical, “Ego Tripping at The Gates of Hell” begins with a thumping bass line and details a man’s descent into the unknown by using simplistic instrumentation with lots of editing, which makes the listener feel like he’s searching through an unknown place, like the protagonist.

“Are You A Hypnotist?” follows the downward spiral through the psychedelic adventure with Coyne’s desperately confused wails helping to convey emotion.

“It’s Summertime” begins with the chirping of birds and feels a lot lighter than the previous songs off the album, although this plays against the rather sad lyrics.

The next track, “Do You Realize???” has become a personal favorite and is definitely the most peppy song on the album. Again though, the upbeat and lovely instrumentation contrasts the sad lyrics, in which Coyne sings about realizing that even though we all die someday, we shouldn’t mope and instead use that time to “let them know you realize that life goes fast, it’s hard to make the good things last, you realize that the sun doesn’t go down, it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinnin’ ‘round.”

The final two tracks, “All We Have Is Now”, and “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon” are both more techno and round off the album in a hypnotic way. “Approaching” is a purely instrumental track that ends the album well.

Despite fans saying that the album has a discernible storyline in most of the tracks about humanity vs. killer robots–and more importantly, the loss of that battle by humanity–Coyne has said that the band did not go into production trying to make “Yoshimi” a concept album. The album is set to debut on Broadway this fall, however, as a musical production expanded by famed director Aaron Sorkin.

The band’s trademark psychedelic music and Coyne’s soft, slow voice make for one of the best albums by the Flaming Lips, and one you’re sure to listen to again and again.

Key Tracks:

Click here to listen to the entirety of the album, including three bonus tracks.

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