ALBUM REVIEW: The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

4.0 rating
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

In 2002, The Flaming Lips released their tenth studio album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. A band that has consistently evolved throughout their career, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots presented a more electronic direction to their music while still holding on to their indie psychedelic rock roots.

The album was critically and commercially acclaimed when released in 2002 and inspired a stage musical that debuted in 2012. I’m prepared to bet when the band formed in Oklahoma City back in 1983, they didn’t think they’d be involved in a musical 30 years later. But how does it hold up after two decades? And what does the deluxe edition give you?

Let’s look at what is contained in the deluxe edition first. I’ve been reviewing the 6xCD, 100-track version, but a 5xLP vinyl version is also available with 56 tracks. And an additional vinyl album release is expected in 2023, containing some additional tracks available on the CD box set. The CD box set also includes a 32-page booklet and a promotional poster.

Some considered Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robot to be a concept album. The first four or five tracks could make you think this, but it certainly isn’t. This is not my opinion, but that of The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. Now we have cleared that up, let’s look at the album…

CD1 of the box set is Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, with some additional demo versions thrown in for good measure. “Fight Test” starts proceedings with a healthy dollop of techno noise, immediately highlighting the embracing of electronic music on this album. A song about personal struggle and love, it helped earn Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) a few quid. An unintentional similarity in vocal parts of the song to the Cat Stevens hit “Father and Son” saw a settlement made with Stevens. However, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Coyne alluded to knowing there may be comparisons made. Please don’t ask me; I’m not a music lawyer.

The song has a subtle yet driving rhythm throughout and vocally feels a little like a John Lennon track. However, the heavy use of vocal distortion in the song does detract from it a little. It certainly is an emotional song, something that features throughout the album. As Coyne sings, “And I don’t know how a man decides what’s right for his own life/It’s all a mystery” I find myself musing about my own life and the decisions I make. A powerful start.

Next, “One More Robot/Symphony 3000-21” is a more gentle and restrained song. Focusing on machines developing sentient feelings, this song seems less like a look into the future and more like a study of now. As Artificial Intelligence keeps evolving to incorporate more machine learning, are we that far away from this outcome becoming a reality? How quickly things can change in twenty years.

“Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” sees The Flaming Lips adopt a more indie-rock vibe with a sprinkling of electronica. The song was inspired by Yoshimi P-We, a band member of Boredoms/OOIOO. P-We was performing in The Flaming Lips studio when a comment was made that her abstract machine-sound singing sounded like she was battling against monsters. That is a good enough reason in my book. Hearing the song, you can understand how people started using the tag of a concept album. This track then blends straight into “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 2”. According to Coyne, this was written before part one. You can see how this band does things in its way. An instrumental track, it has a beautifully dirty grunge sound with a healthy dose of electronic music and sounds. It has a similarity to something a 70s prog-rock band might create. Or maybe the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It has something that draws you in, even though it is a little usual. It probably would have worked well in the George A. Romero 70s movie, “Dawn of the Dead”.

“In the Morning of the Magicians” takes us on a dreamier and more wistful journey. The song feels like an autumn breeze washing over you, accompanied by the occasional emergency services siren passing by. The song touches on the power of the universe and the fate that awaits us. Is life preordained? Is our journey written at birth? Coyne croons, “As the dawn began to break/I had to surrender/The universe will have its way/Too powerful to master.”

A prominent bass line from Michael Ivins pounds throughout “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell”. Musically, it has that feeling of a migraine coming on. The character at the centre of the song is waiting for someone to return their love, but it remains unrequited. Whilst they are fixated on this person, other possible opportunities may pass them by, even better than the one they wish for. The song reminds me a little of early Morcheeba, which is by no means terrible.

Next on the rank is “Are You a Hypnotist??” with its lovely driving rhythm, which instantly sets my head nodding, my feet tapping, and my body moving. Yet this is another song of melancholy. “I had forgiven you/For tricking me again/But I have been tricked/Into forgiving you.” Simple words but very effective at expressing the emotion of being played, asking if they are being hypnotised into making the same mistakes again.

The following two tracks are my favourites on the album. Firstly, we have the Radiohead-esque “It’s Summertime”. The song is connected to the death of a friend of the band who lived in Japan and came to many shows by The Flaming Lips from the early 90s until their sudden death in 2000. It is another song of melancholy and depression. This is certainly not an album to pop on if you fancy being cheered up.

“When you look inside, all you’ll see is a self-reflected inner sadness” is sung by Coyne with an airy, wafty quality to his voice. The last forty seconds of the song bring you a feeling of sadness that slowly dissipates as you become detached from the summertime and wander into your own hard winter.

“Do You Realize??” is the standout track on this album. The song highlights just how significant, and yet insignificant, we are in the scheme of time and space. Our place and existence are precarious. Live your life. Embrace today. Tell people you love them. Better still, show them you love them. Don’t waste energy on those who don’t deserve it.

“Do you realize/That everyone you know someday will die?” gently warbles Coyne. The idea of the song was instigated when band member Steven Drozd was trying to overcome a heroin addiction while recording the album, along with the death of Coyne’s father. It is a positive, life-affirming song. It has an anthemic feel that lifts you up, gives you a shake and tells you to embrace the life you have, for it could be gone in a second. The song also has a feel of the Lightning Seeds throughout. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had heard Ian Broudie singing it. “All We Have Is Now” continues this theme but with a whiff of They Might Be Giants about it.

Finally, we have an instrumental escorting us from this auditory experience. “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)”. A powerful ending to the album, complete with some of those abstract sounds from P-We. The track acts as a theme song that plays as the end credits roll. A soaring guitar and punchy horns battle for space in the track as if there has been an audio explosion, sonically drifting out into the cosmos, and their notes are flying around, competing for your attention.

There are also some demos on CD1. They may not appeal to everyone, but it aids in painting a picture of how the album evolved. For example, the “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” demo sounds awful in places (mainly because it is not recorded in the best audio quality). Still, it enables you to appreciate the process which led to the final cut.

CD2 starts contains Fight Test E.P. and “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” E.P. These include a mix of live, demo and studio tracks. Notable tracks are the cover of Kylie’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” (Ms Minogue meets the apocalypse) and “Thank You Jack White (for the Fiber-Optic Jesus That You Gave Me)”. Also, the Utah Saints mix of “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” is worth a listen.

CD3 is titled “Non-LP+” and contains quite a random mix of live tracks, alternative versions, demos and B-sides. To show the level of variation on this disc, we have “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” sung in Japanese, a song from the Spongebob Squarepants movie (I’d love to have been in that meeting), an excellent cover version of The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” and an utterly bizarre version of the Irving Berlin classic “White Christmas”.

CD4 focuses on radio sessions. We have 19 tracks, but only 11 different songs, as many are covered two or three times. Highlights include “Do You Realize??” (Live on KEXP), “Fight Test” (Live on XFM), “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell”, and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” (both Live on BBC Radio 1).

CD5 contains a live set at Paradise Lounge, Boston, USA, in October 2002. Although it has 11 tracks, it is essentially five songs with six intros. The band perform a lovely stripped-down version of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1”. There is also one studio track on the CD, “Psychedelic Hypnotist Daydream”. This meandering, rambling track goes on for 24 minutes and 38 seconds. It is fair to call it a wee bit trippy. It is like a musical washing machine going through its cycles.

CD6 is a live recording of their gig at The Forum in London on January 22nd 2003. The gig demonstrates how some of the band’s music works better live, some tracks less so. It is always hard to assess a live recording as it depends on how good the production was at the venue at the time of recording. The best tracks are “Lucifer Sam” (Pink Floyd cover), “She Don’t Use Jelly”, “Do You Realize??” and “What Is The Light?”.

The 32-page booklet sees Steven Drodz conversing with Wayne Coyne, Dean Fridmann and band manager Scott Booker. They talk about the album, how it developed and how Booker became their manager. There are also some personal photographs included.

If you are a casual fan of The Flaming Lips, this may not be for you. If you are a devotee of the band, you will no doubt love this box set. I would rather they paired the tracks down to maybe five discs and added a DVD of a live performance. It may have added an extra bit of oomph to the collection.

So, does Yoshimi still stand up in 2022? Without a doubt. It is a huge compliment to say it sounds timeless. It still has a contemporary sound to it, and the subject matter of the songs has not dated, though “One More Robot/Symphony 3000-21” may be obsolete in the coming years. (Just wait for the Robot uprising!) The Flaming Lips are playing this album live in full at London’s Eventim Apollo on April 28th 2023. It is sure to be a hot ticket as it is the only date they will be doing so in the UK.

It is an album best enjoyed when you have time to kick back, relax and listen to it in full. I mean, listen to it, absorb it and ensure you won’t be interrupted. But leave it in the sleeve if you want a good-time party album to boost the spirits.

8/10

Xsnoize Author
Iam Burn 11 Articles
Iam Burn is a photographer based in the North East of England. Fave bands: R.E.M, The Lovely Eggs, Half Man Half Biscuit, Madness, Inspiral Carpets, Billy Bragg, The Pogues, The Proclaimers, The Ukrainians, They Might Be Giants, The Chats, Matt Berry, Lead Belly, Grace Petrie, The Beautiful South, Carter USM… and many more! Favourite album: Impossible to choose but Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by Dead Kennedys is pretty awesome. Most embarrassing record still in my collection: Hole in my Shoe by Neil.

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