The Flaming Lips
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (20th Anniversary 5LP Super Deluxe Edition Box Set)
While The Flaming Lips had already established themselves in the pop and rock communities by the time Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots was released in 2002, the album holds the distinction of being the one that really took the band to another level – and equally impressive was the manner in which they managed to accomplish it. An argument could easily be made that, while The Flaming Lips had already established a solid foothold in the rock market, what truly established the band on the much broader and more vibrant pop cultural stage was the moment when the Yoshimi… single “Do You Realize??” appeared in a Hewlett-Packard advertising campaign. When that happened, the potential pop appeal of the song just exploded; suddenly, everyone knew who The Flaming Lips were, loved the song and wanted to hear more. It was handy that The Flaming Lips’ pop explosion just happened to coincide with a significant songwriting boom within the band too; Wayne Coyne and company happened to be firing on all creative cylinders and were in the perfect place to give their new, much larger fan base everything it was looking for. The success of that explosion saw the band go on a lengthy tour in support of Yoshimi…, and The Flaming Lips made sure that the proverbial tapes were rolling when they took the stage. All told, the success of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and the attention that the album won for the band got them an ever-greater library of recordings – a significant number of which are included in this 5LP leviathan, and the sheer magnitude of the set will give listeners the best, most complete possible impression of both the moment and the music.
…And, to this day, there is a sense of familiarity and comfort to be found in the opening moments of “Fight Test” that is absolutely spectacular – and completely unavoidable in spite of the ominous booming, “The test begins NOW!” at the opening of the cut. Throughout “Fight Test” – as well as through “One More Robot” and the first half of the album’s title track – The Flaming Lips make the most of the then-new digital production platform they were using to make the record (ProTools still felt new in spite of it being about six years old, by then), and the lighthearted spirit of both the album and the album’s construction translates very well; lyrics like, “I thought I was smart/ I thought I was right/ I thought it was better not to fight/ I thought there was a virtue in being cool” take on a different kind of air when backed as they are with the slick, electronic elements in the song than they would if they were backed with typical alt-rock fare, and that general sense endures in the early playing of this deluxe reissue.
After listeners are re-introduced to the form of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, falling into the album’s rhythm doesn’t take long at all and, after “In The Morning of The Magicians” plays through and stylus lifts from the side, some listeners may curse while also laughing that, while the vinyl remastering job applied sounds excellent, the limitations of the medium mean that they won’t be able to remain under the album’s spell indefinitely (read: the price of vinyl enjoyment is having to swap sides, occasionally – and seldom in the moments that most would prefer), and so losing oneself in it is impossible.
While the A-side of Yoshimi opened with – and came to be characterized by – a succession of career-defining singles, the B-side of the album opens with the far groovier and more playful “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell,” which represents a completely different mindset and style. There, Michael Ivins’ bass and Steven Drozd’s drums quickly establish a really sweet and spiralling rhythm that easily rewrites the bodily rhythms of all those who hear it, and lines like, “I was wanting you to love me/ But your love it never came/ All the other love around me/ Was just wasting all away” further support that conscious desire to shift the album’s focus from one side to the next. That shift gets greater/better realized with “Are You The Hypnotist” – which follows so close to the back of “Ego Tripping…” that the songs almost present as one, but the bird sounds and bright, Beach Boys-ish composition of “It’s Summertime” easily re-draw the separation and movement through the side with a far cooler demeanour which relies more on composition than it does on lyricism. From there, the tranquility established by “It’s Summertime” is inflated to epic proportions by “Do You Realize” – which ultimately came to redefine The Flaming Lips and still plays like a glorious celebration as one listens back to it now. At his best, Wayne Coyne was most regularly a better songwriter than he has been a singer but, on “Do You Realize,” the character that Coyne is playing comes across as being sweet, wide-eyed and amazed, and his normally nasal croak rolls out smoothly and with a very affecting melody on top of a most sublime instrumental performance – all of which transitions seamlessly into “All We Have Is Now” (which utilizes all of the same sonic structures as “Do You Realize??” but with a slightly more modest style and sensibility) before finally finding an excellent resolution in “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon,” which closes the album. There, listeners will already know the end is near but will still be floored as the song opens with a really smooth and groove-focused beat propels the song, while a harp, horns and a really lean and mildly overdriven guitar paint a fairly scenic sort of backdrop which is incredibly engaging – particularly given that the cut features no vocals. The running of “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon” is pretty brief, compared to some of the other cuts on Yoshimi but, by the end of the song, the absence of an extended run-out (the song does not make a jarringly sharp close for the album, but also does not waste any time) definitely plays like a hook which ensures that listeners will make their way through the album for repeated plays above and beyond the four other LPs which comprise this massive Super Deluxe Edition Box Set. It may not have seemed likely when Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots was first released, but there’s no question that the album has proven to be a timeless artifact, with age.
…And while there is no question about the quality of the music which originally appeared on Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, the treasure trove of other music that the band composed and performed at around the same period as Yoshimi and is included on this 5LP Super Deluxe Edition Box Set is undoubtedly remarkable. The Non LP disc presents as an excellent mixed bag of material which includes covers (a genuinely playful cover of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” will inspire a few smiles as the band teases their way through the tune), Christmas carols (“White Christmas, sort of) soundtrack contributions (it’s still difficult to quantify “SpongeBob & Patrick Confront The Psychic Wall Of Energy,” but its nature and inclusion here is endearing) and re-imaginings of singles (like the Japanese language version of the title track from the Japanese Edition of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots) could all be seen as the dictionary definition of non-essential, but they make for entertaining fluff in this context. As the disc plays, listeners will be able to feel their eyes widening in enjoyment of the material and won’t be left feeling overstuffed by the time the needle lift from the LP. More captivating is the leaner sound of the demos that appear on the Demos+ LP. There, listeners will find that the development from early versions of “Ego Tripping at The Gates of Hell,” “In The Morning of The Magicians” and the two-part development of “Do You Realize??” particularly engrossing because the songs afford fresh illumination on ideas which are already well-established in listeners’ minds. Granted, it could easily be argued that many of the demos would likely not be regarded as essential fare for any but the most completist of fans, but their value – if only to curiosity seekers – cannot be denied.
Finally, the two Radio Sessions LPs which make up the balance of this 5LP monster prove to be of great inspiration and style as well as representing some pretty dazzling alternatives to their studio counterparts. Particular standouts like The Flaming Lips’ cover of “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” (which was captured at KEXP and presents the song at a walking pace) and the rewrite of “Do You Realize??” which stays locked into a minor key and so ends up playing very lugubriously really illustrates how open to interpretation and presentation the music on Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots can be. Conversely, the performances of “Fight Test,” “One More Robot” and “Do You Realize??” – each taken from the then-new XM radio format (the irony that a digital format is captured on the archetypal analogue format here is not lost on this critic) brim with the excitement that the band clearly felt because they were playing on uncharted terrain at the time, and ring through brilliantly, here.
When the set closes with “Up Above the Daily Hum” and “Xanthe Terra” – the last two genuine and undeniable oddball cuts on the live discs (odd because they don’t exactly fit in with the rest of the music as a form and they’re not live, in the conventional sense) – no one who has run front-to-back with this leviathan of a box set will be able to deny that it was an experience unlike any other. Trying to do it all in one sitting comes very close to being unreasonable on any given day but, on the right day, listeners will be unable to claim that they haven’t experienced something truly special with the 20th Anniversary 5LP Super Deluxe Edition of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. This set is absolutely worth the asking price because so much care has been put into its presentation (this review didn’t even address the posters and booth which comes with the box set), and there’s no question that the music has retained the spark which won The Flaming Lips the much wider fanbase it did in 2002. Not every box set of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots‘ sort deserves the attention it draws, but there’s no question that this one does. [Bill Adams]
Flaming Lips – The Hypnotist 12’’ EP – [Vinyl Vlog 608]
Fleming Lips – Heady Nuggs 1994 – 1997 3CD – [CD review]
Flaming Lips – American Head – [CD review]
Flaming Lips – Greatest Hits Volume 1 LP – [Vinyl Vlog 339]
Flaming Lips – Oczy M?ody LP – [Vinyl Vlog 201]
Flaming Lips – With A Little Help From My Fwends LP [Vinyl review]
Bands In Tandem – A Flaming Lips Brainstorm Gives Birth To Electric Worms – [Feature Article]
The 20th Anniversary 5LP Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Super Deluxe Edition Box Set is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.