How does a band follow up the lushly orchestrated, big Spector-like wall of sound the Flaming Lips cultivated on their critical cream-dream, 1999s The Soft Bulletin? If you’re Wayne Coyne and the rest of the Flaming Lips, you return to the lab, tinker with more toys and re-emerge with the engines primed for shot out of the sky.

Paul Wong
The Flaming Lips
Yoshimi Battles the Pink robots
Warner Bros.

On Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, the Flaming Lips have done just that.

They took the songs from The Soft Bulletin, widened their sonic range, pushing, driving, building, whatever-ing verse/chorus/verse structures into outer space-y melodies. Songs warble and beep like flashing lights on a starship control console.

On each Flaming Lips record, Wayne Coyne tinkers the band’s sound like a mad scientist. On 1993’s Transmissions From the Satellite Heart, the lucid braintrust of the Lips composed a guitar-based album, playing with, if not poking fun at the heavyset grunge-junk found all over the airwaves, the result – a top 40 hit with “She Don’t Use Jelly.” Yoshimi features more of Coyne’s tinkering, this time pushing the band deep into the digital age.

The Lips show that their foray into electronica isn’t their forte on “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2.” While the techno-explosion lunges out of place at first listen, with each spin it fits better and better into the record.

The first track, “Fight Test” is as beauteous as anything the band has record, and arguably the best song the Flaming Lips have ever recorded. From the hooky chord progressions to Coyne’s smugly bittersweet lyric “I thought there was a virtue, in always being cool,” – you never can tell if he’s cracking a joke or not.

The album often teetoles on the absurd, on the title track Coyne sings about a fictitious woman, Yoshimi saving him from giant evil pink robots. The background of the song is as orchestrally dense as anything from The Soft Bulletin.

Contradicting the Lips oft-absurdist tendencies is the morosely sad single “Do You Realize.” The song hangs the pathetic lyric “Do you realize, that someday, everyone you know / will die.” These thought-y couplets drip from time to time on Yoshimi, creating an emotional push/pull not seen on previous Flaming Lips records.

While not better as an album than Bulletin, and little could surpass 1995s Clouds Taste Metallic, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is a cohesively sweet bag of euphonic candy and one of the finest albums thus far, of 2002.

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