The Flaming Lips know existentialism like the back of their hands. Over the course of nine acid-damaged albums, theyve examined the question "What is real?" over and over, each time sounding wiser, while becoming more and more child-like.
Like its magnificent predecessor, the Oklahoma trios new album, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, floats in an ocean of questions, drifting like a lit-up Portuguese man-o-war, scintillating and beautiful, but offering answers as slippery as jellyfish.
The new record is co-produced with David Fridmann and Scott Booker, and features the same, luminous sonics that made 1999s The Soft Bulletin such an otherworldly sensory experience.
Opener Fight Test is a love song, something the Lips dont often do, at least never this directly, or with a regret so poignant. Sample this line: "So when it came time to fight, I thought Ill just step aside, and (hope) that time would prove you wrong." But singer Wayne Coyne isnt just recalling a girl he lost to indecision. His diffidence is part of a larger, existential querulousness, one that puts him in creaturely awe of the Big Questions in life. And he sums it up thusly: "I dont know how a man decides whats right for his own life, its all a mystery."
The questing repeats like a mantra throughout the album. But on at least two songs, Coyne flings aside his tentativeness, and makes a brave reach for the specifics of reality. Its Summertime is a song written to comfort the sisters of a dead friend from Osaka. On it, Coyne, who lost his own father to cancer, acknowledges the devastation of loss, but offers a suggestion so loving it sends shivers down your spine: "When you look inside, all youll see is a self-reflected inner sadness; look outside, I know youll recognise its summertime."
Then on Do You Realize, the listener is surrounded by a rippling wash of thoughts that centre on the inevitability of losing loved ones and friends. Overwhelmed by ephemera, Coyne rushes in with words of advice that would like been frighteningly trite if they werent also so genuine: "Let them know you realise that life goes fast."
You ask, "Whos Yoshimi? How does she come into this record?" Well, Yoshimis an ostensible reference to Japanese noise band Boredoms drummer, but on the record, shes also a vitamin-popping civil servant whos on a karate mission to defeat evil-natured robots that have overrun society.
sense? No matter. The Lips have written songs about stranger topics before.
Certainly, in a career of 20 years, The Flaming Lips have long left the
corridors of rational thought. Their latest flight takes them (and us)
into outer space (and whimsy) where we might find the Ultimate Reality.
No guesses, though, what that might be, the Lips certainly dont
know, and to pre-judge the issue would be like shooting down the bands
increasingly wondrous rocket. Lee Chung Horn
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