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Flaming Lips | Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (Warner Bros.)
"I don't know where the sunbeams end and starlights begin, it's all a mystery..." So chants Fight Test the opener to the Flaming Lips' millionth album. It's a simple, brilliant, catchy line bobbing away on a current of seasick guitar and gently ebbing electronics. Wayne Coyne ?? space pirate - perched on the prow of his starship, pouring his musings into the galaxy. It's very Coyne, very hope-is-in-the-stars. Three years after the majestic astropop of 'The Soft Bulletin' the Lips are back and all is right in the world. But it's the scarcely audible revolving couplet grinding underneath the chorus which gives the game away: "'Cos I'm a man, not a boy, and there are things you can't avoid. You have to face them when you're not prepared to face them. If I could then I would, but you're with him now and you're no good. I should have fought him..." Oh dear. Oh bless. First track in and Coyne is already admitting defeat, surrendering to his own trials, giving up the good fight for a sore heart and a pretty song. Come on Wayne, dukes up! Puppets on! There are prizes to be raced for, there are people waiting for their supermen! But, even the single ?? the usual core matrix and manifesto of energy and evolution for the Lips ?? here (Do You Realize?) is an oddly conceived mixture of strung out melodies and seesawing sentiments. "Do you realize?" Coyne inquires, "that you have the most beautiful face? We're floating in space? That happiness makes you cry? That everyone you know someday will die?" This is a Flaming Lips in thrall to the might of mortality, humbled by the most simple 'beingness' of being. The kick to it though, is that Coyne takes comfort in his capacity to be crippled ?? this is how we remind ourselves we are human. Time is measured in increments of decay ?? a picnic, a handshake, a goodbye kiss all turn to dust in the stinging, cleansing sunrise of a new day. The peripheries of Coyne's emotional landscape are populated by skeletons. And although this is the closest Coyne comes to unravelling self-pity from the husks of memories/dreams/relationships strewn about him, he never once shies from looking his demons in the eye. It's just that here, in his eyes ?? in this music ?? they become 6ft high animatronic cuddly Jim Henson demons with a supporting role in the choruses. Wayne's a man's man. He sings his song with one hand clasped to his heart and the other balled into a fist, striking the air with every syllable. It's an affectation - of course, this is affectatious music - but a sincere one. Still, there are times on this album when you wish he'd pluck up a little more. A slap on the back, a nod, a firm handshake. No hugs. There's a palpable sense of resignation here, played a little too one-note to really attract the emotional involvement of the listener. Sometimes it works. It's Summertime is a gorgeous Sunny D FM-feel good arrangement concealing a stubbornly downbeat lyric from Coyne, delivered so bleakly that it's almost bitter. Because he spends so much effort contriving his jubilations into a hyper-positive jamboree, when he inverts the procedure his deadpan is disarming and handsomely sombre. He's the most salient force on this album and even he sounds enervated. The musical arrangements - which, on 'The Soft Bulletin', made Wayne's songs into rocketships with their controls set for the heart of the moon - are here, for the most part, disappointingly generic. The frazzled input of The Boredoms' Yoshimi briefly alleviates the mood, lending the first half of the album a cool toytronic manga Rugrats feel (or Mark Mothersbaugh soundtracking 'Godzilla vs The Monsters from the Id'?) and a slightly silly subtext about giant pink robots which we can assume is probably some sort of metaphor for bad juju spirits and cuddly-cute depression. The title track distracts itself with a sub-drum 'n' bass segue brimming with lovely squelchy electronic bassbooms but ultimately lurches into the psychic dead-end of In The Morning of The Magicians. The closing instrumental Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon is pleasant and slightly sugary, if thematically weak and rather reminiscent of a session musicians version of The Flaming Lips. A fitting closer only in that it sums up the lost potential of what could (and should) have been a great album, rather than simply a 'nice' one. Wayne's lack of closure on the distracted sense of distress he leaves lingering throughout 'Yoshimi...' appears similarly telling. Time is money and this music stuff isn't going to pay the bills forever. After all, those children's parties are always going to need puppet-mangling entertainers, but that's really no reason to bring the rest of the band in on the day job.

David McNamee
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002