Friday, July 15th, 2022
The Flaming Lips – Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”
The Album First Came Out July 16, 2002
Jul 15, 2022
By Austin Saalman
Oklahoma City-based neo-psychedelic rockers The Flaming Lips had been recording music together for nearly 20 years prior to the release of their critically acclaimed 10th studio album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. A solid follow-up to the group’s 1999-released breakthrough and ultimate masterpiece The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots continues The Flaming Lips’ creative vision into the overwhelmingly dystopian 21st century, as appropriately represented throughout its storyline, in which Japanese alt rock heroine Yoshimi P-We seeks to overcome a race of sentient machines hell bent upon humanity’s destruction. This plot line, however, is exceedingly loose and takes a backseat to the album’s soundscapes, which are lush with melancholic intimacy—such blue waves of cosmic introspection to be expected of any great psychedelic release. In its time, Yoshimi marked a turning point in modern music, The Flaming Lips having proved themselves by successfully expanding upon the sonic mastery demonstrated on The Soft Bulletin.
Opening track “Fight Test,” which bore a striking resemblance to Cat Stevens’ own 1970-released hit “Father and Son” and resulted in a lawsuit against the group, finds frontman Wayne Coyne contemplating: “I thought I was smart/I thought I was right/I thought it better not to fight/I thought there was a virtue/In always bein’ cool,” introducing the album’s themes of conflict and combat. This remains among The Flaming Lips’ top tracks, embodying the group’s vast, spacey, far-out sound—an intermingling of ’60s and ’70s psychedelic rock and ’90s and ’00s experimental pop, rich in synthesizers and computer effects. Having won his lawsuit against the group, Stevens still receives royalties for “Fight Test.” The Flaming Lips’ retrofuturistic sense of idealism is never better realized than on Yoshimi, especially on part one of its title track, which remains a superior indie rock composition, now a classic of its genre. Coyne’s comic book account of Yoshimi P-We’s preparation for combat, which includes exercising and “taking lots of vitamins,” adds an air of good humor to the entire ordeal, complementing the track’s sunnily upbeat melodic disposition. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” is an album standout, as well as a great introductory track for those unfamiliar with The Flaming Lips’ music.
Continuing in the album (and group’s) vein of signature cosmic mysticism, expansive neo-psych jam “In the Morning of the Magicians” appropriately draws its title from 1960-published New Age conspiracy theory survey The Morning of the Magicians. Similarly, the subsequent “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell,” which briefly returns the group to something resembling the sound of 1995’s Clouds Taste Metallic, further details Coyne and company’s celestial mission, alternating between bad trip pessimism and euphoric bliss as only scattered children of the psychedelic age can. Tracks such as “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21,” “Are You a Hypnotist??,” and “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)” all round the album’s trippy sound out well, each track stylish and sonically rich, displaying the group’s studio wizardry, as it merges sincere neo-psychedelia with alt rock, as well as dream and electro-pop.
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’ crown jewel, however, arrives in the form of initially unassuming dream pop ballad “It’s Summertime,” which repeated listens will surely reveal as being among The Flaming Lips’ greatest songs and the Yoshimi track that sums the album’s sentiments up most concisely. Lyrically, “It’s Summertime” finds Coyne at his most introspective, as he assures the listener, “When you look inside, all you’ll see/Is a self-reflected inner sadness.” This track is a work of peculiar beauty, one which may not immediately stand out amidst the ambitious bombast of the album’s remainder, but is most definitely worth the consideration. Gloriously sublime space pop revelation “Do You Realize??,” currently a fan favorite and formerly the Official Rock Song of Oklahoma, continues this ontological reflection, as Coyne inquires: “Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?” The downtempo “All We Have Is Now” appears to reiterate its predecessor’s message, its soundscape a swirling science fiction carnival of intergalactic proportions, as Coyne seems to accept his own mortality and ultimate existential insignificance, confessing, “You and me were never meant to be part of the future.” This line in particular is integral to the album’s overarching message, which ultimately encourages the listener to dream freely, while not failing to remind us that life on earth is brief.
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots received critical acclaim upon its release, going on to receive a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Performance. At that point in their career, The Flaming Lips had officially broken through, after decades of hard work and perseverance as a promising alt rock act. The group would continue its creative streak with 2006’s At War with the Mystics, completing what may be considered an unofficial trilogy of top-notch releases, alongside The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi, distinguishing itself as one of the most unique and able musical acts of its generation. On a more personal note, The Flaming Lips also remain one of Under the Radar’s major artists, having appeared on the cover of Issue 3 in October 2002, in promotion of Yoshimi.
While the group has never quite returned to the artistic heights of its 1999-2006 output, The Flaming Lips remain ahead of many of their peers, their elaborate live performances and seemingly endless supply of charisma keeping them several steps ahead of the pack. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is a monumental release, finding Wayne Coyne and company, after years of toiling away in relative obscurity, triumphing at long last, the results still as blissfully visceral as they were 20 years ago.