Thursday, October 30, 2008

Weird But Wonderful: The Flaming Lips "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots"

Welcome to the strange but wonderful world of the Flaming Lips. This band hails out of OklaYoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1Cover via Amazonhoma, but you’d never know it. My guess would have been Mars.

The Lips have been around for about twenty five years doing strange stuff – not limited to music - out on the fringes. Occasionally they would surface on the radio. They first hit my radar - and tried my patience - back in 1995 with the song “She Don’t Use Jelly”. They plead innocent to the most obvious interpretation, which I’m only now ready to believe. Their lead singer and mastermind, Wayne Coyne, has only a passing acquaintance with pitch. And it’s taken me a number of years to hear it as pure innocence.

Their next hit was 1999’s “The Soft Bulletin”, where Wayne shows a little more control, and a lot more melody. It’s almost great, but to me, their follow up, “
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” is where it all comes together.

Well, Wayne still misses some notes, but by now I don’t mind. Did I mention that he likes to hang out in the higher registers, so he sounds like he’s been inhaling helium? When combined with the beeps and crackles that a science fiction theme tends to encourage, things get odd real fast. You might expect the result to be cold and sterile, but instead, with the help of some very melodic songs, we get something warm, emotional and beautiful.
The story, such as it is, involves Yoshimi who, well, battles some pink robots. I understand that the story was inspired by a friend’s losing battle with cancer, although no mention is made of this on the album, or in their documentary “Fearless Freaks” (a pretty apt description, by the way). Nor is the other possible inspiration - 9/11 (it was recorded from 2000 through to 2002). This may be why I genuinely enjoy the music rather than feel like I’m obligated to.

The record kicks off with the irresistible “Fight Test”, which is about how some things are worth fighting for, even if you realize it too late. This is followed by a few songs that more or less tell the story. They’re done relatively straight (for the Lips, anyway) and are quite nice (except the one about the actual battle with the robots, which makes me feel like I’m stuck inside a video game).

The rest of the album, though - about dealing with loss and regret – is beautiful. The seemingly serene “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” becomes heart wrenching as the words sink in. The delicate “It’s Summertime” is about finding a way to move on after terrible loss. You may have heard the gorgeous “Do You Realize???”, which encapsulates the main themes of the record.

The remainder of the album drives home the point that the only valid response to our mortality is to love now. This is not an original idea, but it is delivered with such sincerity that it blows right through my normally oversensitive sentimentality detector.

The Lips have been at it for so long, surviving out on the fringes, that they may not even be aware of how strange they can sound. Go ahead and laugh at the weirdness, but they wouldn’t even notice. This record is a great example of beauty for beauty’s sake. It’s when the weirdos come in from the cold, and tell you what a wonderful world it is.

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