In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “I can totally hear why other people would be blown away by these dudes and these songs, it just never quite gets to that level for me.”
For the last decade and a half or so, The Flaming Lips have been one of those rare bands able to balance mega success and mega stardom, while remaining a totally singular, creative force of weirdness, individuality and originality. But there was a time when they were just the guys I kind of remembered because of a novelty hit from my early teens with She Don’t Use Jelly. I was trying to remember when they went from that novelty, one hit wonder, to a band I knew I needed to take more notice of. And I reckon it happened not long after the turn of the millennium, with their record Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
From its faux live setting, to its sampled voiceover intro, to its hippy guitar sound, to its oscillations between a flanged out bassline from outer space and Wayne Coyne’s vulnerable struggles to reach certain notes, Flight Test is every bit the song a track one should be. It just feels like an easing in, a table setter, a story establisher, a world builder.
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt 1 is a great showcase of what the Flaming Lips do best. It’s pretty traditional song writing done really well. It just feels like more because of Coyne’s unmistakeable voice and the bands knack for always knowing what weirdness they should throw on top, without ever smothering the solid song writing at its core. This song could work with just Coyne and an acoustic guitar, but the arrangements and deployment of the little flourishes give the sadness a dreamy sci-fi vibe that takes nothing away from the humans underneath the technology.
It’s a sound that fuels most of the album, with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2, In the Morning of the Magicians and Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell all rolling out like continuations of the songs that preceded them. These aren’t disconnected, individual songs, they’re chapters forming a larger narrative. And surprisingly, one of the most consistent, unifying features, is the bass work of Michael Ivins. Trippy, hallucinogenic rock isn’t usually lead by the bottom end, but here, it drives every song and provides a steady foundation so everything else can float around freely.
To a casual fan and observer like me, Do You Realize?? seems to have become somewhat of an anthem for the band over the years. Hearing it here, it’s obvious why. Do You Realize?? perfectly fits the rest of Yoshimi, but its searing chorus and affirmation feel is so perfectly built for crowd participation as a standalone live favourite as well.
I’m pretty sure this wasn’t my first listening to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots top to bottom. I think I gave it bash when tried to have a Flaming Lips binge 10 or 12 years ago. And while I appreciated what they did and liked a lot of it, I never had a Flaming Lips epiphany where an obsession was born. Hearing it again now, I still appreciate the band more than I love them. I can totally hear why other people would be blown away by these dudes and these songs, it just never quite gets to that level for me. What I do love however, is knowing that they’re out there, making this weird ass shit that is heard on a much bigger scale than this kind of originality usually receives.