The Flaming Lips are one of those bands you pretend to know really well when people bring them up in conversation. “The Lips? Yeah, love ‘em. Really trippy guys. Out of control live shows.” After all, they’ve got fifteen studio albums under the belts, and have sat at the top of the psych-pop throne for years. I had no real prior introduction to them, though, besides hearing their “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” on the FIFA Street 2 soundtrack and knowing that they had more recently collaborated with Miley Cyrus on her Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz album. It seemed appropriate to finally acquaint myself with the band. At the very least, it’d mean I could blurt out some confident sounding opinions when people around me started to wax lyrical about their work.
Being one of the most critically acclaimed of the bunch, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots definitely seemed a good place to start. What interested me as well is the surreal trajectory Yoshimi has ridden in pop culture, managing to plant a bunch of weird-on-purpose Oklahoma oddballs firmly in the mainstream spotlight. One song was written for an episode of the television show Friends, for instance, and another became the official state rock song of the Lips’s home state for a short period. You could even pop down to the theatre and catch a Yoshimi musical if you were in the mood.
Yoshimi [managed] to plant a bunch of weird-on-purpose oklahoma oddballs firmly in the mainstream spotlight
What’s with the title? Initially, the record centres around the story of a young girl in hospital fighting against her cancer. According to Coyne, though, only the first four songs directly deal with the title itself. Past this point, the album slides away from its initial concept and the real questions start to be asked. I’d like to think of the latter half of Yoshimi as almost The Dark Side of the Moon of the indie scene. Roger Waters once described the latter as an exploration not of outer space but inner space. Yoshimi’s existentialism, with ponderings about mortality, love and death, helps it to fulfill the same function. This comparison seems even more appropriate when considering that the Lips covered The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety in the studio in 2009.
When framing Yoshimi in relation to the old school, then, it’s clear that lyrically it’s got the most in common with Pink Floyd. Stylistically, though, the album’s more like a Beatles cut. Expect perfectly digestible bite-size chunks as opposed to ten minute epics. It also seems that the Lips almost pulled a Led Zeppelin in a way by lifting from their inspirations whilst completely outplaying them at the same time. A couple of tracks bear undeniable similarities to songs by Cat Stevens and Mike and the Mechanics, for instance. Yoshimi manages to satisfy by boiling psych down into its constituent elements and delivering familiar musical tropes with unique twists that keep it interesting for the listener.
Coyne’s lyrics are often simplistic, almost veering on the overly sentimental. And yet they still positively drip with emotion. “What is love and what is hate, and why does it matter?” At other times, he dabbles in contradictory wordplay. The symmetry in the line “I had forgiven you for tricking me again – but I have been tricked again – into forgiving you.” on the track “Are You a Hypnotist??” makes it seem like the band stuck it in there to purposely try and lull their listeners into confused double takes. This gentle crooning is backed up with acoustic guitar strumming, bleeping synths and fast, glitchy drum machine tracks, leading to syrupy, almost Muzak-esque arrangements.
“Do You Realize???” in particular stands out for the way in which it incorporates a key change that should be by definition unbearably cheesy and manages to make it work by channeling its energy into euphoria instead. If I’m going to shoot for one final comparison as a means of describing the record, it’ll take the form of an analogy. Yoshimi could perhaps be described as the Star Wars of albums. Everyone’ll enjoy it, but it’s got enough depth for a dedicated cult fan base and to be worth many, many repeat listens. So, there’ll be no revisionism, posturing or argument in this review. It definitely deserves its status as a modern classic.