New material from The Flaming Lips
Weirdness ensues. The Flaming Lips are back July 16th with Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, an album that’s better than a hundred others that will come out this year, if only for its title and cover art. The music itself is like intergalactic meringue, or a spaceship shaped like an enormous BLT. Because nothing is simple in The Flaming Lips’ world, yet the components used are the stuff of normalcy. The Flaming Lips: Comfort food for alien mystics.
Flaming Lips vocalist and principle songwriter Wayne Coyne is either famously eccentric or infamously nuts. But like his peers in Modest Mouse, Ween, Mercury Rev, and Grandaddy, he and his Lips cohorts fashion beauty from insanity. On the lilting, creaking, burbling Yoshimi, The Lips carve a story arc out of moon cheese, relying on the electric guitar to string together the album’s varying musical themes. It’s the kind of music that shifts on a breeze. “I thought there was a virtue in always being cool,” Wayne Coyne sings in “Fight Test.” “I don’t know where the sunbeams end and the starlight begins – it’s all a mystery.” Throughout, sunlit guitars (“Ego Tripping At the Gates of Hell,” “It’s Summertime”) are layered with heaping helpings of keyboards and effects; it’s as if Cornelius moved to Oklahoma City to gig with The Little River Band.
The music of The Flaming Lips has always possessed the doping effect of intense humidity. Even “She Don’t Use Jelly,” the zany, unlikely breakout hit from 1993’s Transmissions From The Satellite Heart, was swimming in its own florid atmospherics. That sound continued through the ambitious communal experiment of 1997’s 4-disc Zaireeka, and the opaque, fibrous pop of 1999’s Soft Bulletin. The great thing about this journey? The music has always been wonderful. Complicated, yes. Kooky? Definitely. But The Lips always keep at least one toe behind the line. Yoshimi‘s “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21” begins with a phoned-in synth line that sounds like Mike Oldfield performing at a funeral and builds into an updated Pink Floyd verse, which is then joined by a shuffling beat that would almost be 2-step garage if it had a bit more bottom end. Oldfield finally claws and scratches his way back to the top of the mix, and is accompanied by the plucking of an acoustic guitar and a symphony of electronics that wouldn’t be out of place on a David Arkenstone record. But just when you’re sure they’re broadcasting live from the third ring of Saturn, The Flaming Lips present “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots P.1,” the tuneful, head-nodding pop dittie that abuts against the back end of “One More Robot.” Informed with the grinning quality of Gram Parson’s best work, the song reminds you that there are the spare parts of a rock and roll band inside this great space coaster.
A lot of what The Flaming Lips do wouldn’t be out of place on a Robert Wyatt album. Nevertheless, for over ten years, The Flaming Lips have recorded for Warner Brothers. It’s not as odd a fit as you might imagine. While it is home for the broad-based pap of Better Than Ezra and sworn GLONO enemy Sting, Warner Brothers’ roster also includes the sci-fi wasabi of Cibo Matto, the intellectual electronica of Stereolab, and Clem Snide’s achy breaky pop. This isn’t news; it’s just interesting to note how stylistically far enormous record labels like WB will range in their quest for the almighty dollar. The Flaming Lips seem to be conducting the Wilco method with their label. While they certainly aren’t rock stars, there’s no question that The Lips have a solid, if not rabid following, one that is guaranteed to clear a certain amount of receipts in tour revenue and album sales. And in what may be a sign both of burgeoning artist autonomy and the name of the music game in the 21st century, The Flaming Lips have been streaming the entirety of Yoshimi over their website for the past few weeks. Warner may not care if The Lips’ new material is released early; after all, the band isn’t required to help the label clear its third quarter earnings estimate. But it’s funny that Warner Brothers hasn’t asked The Flaming Lips to record “She STILL Don’t Use Jelly!”
In the meantime, take your protein pills and put your helmet on, because Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots is on its way. And if you can’t wait like Glorious Noise can’t wait, listen to it as much as you want at www.flaminglips.com.