Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

There aren’t a lot of distractions in Oklahoma City—which helps explain how the area’s most prominent weirdos, The Flaming Lips, managed to release ten album between 1986’s Hear It Is and 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. But that statistic fails to fully measure the band’s proficiency. According to lead singer Wayne Coyne, the group was working on no fewer than three distinct projects while creating Yoshimi, including the country-leaning soundtrack to Okie Noodling—a documentary about men who catch giant catfish with their bare hands—and the synthesizer score to Coyne’s own self-directed full-length homage to 1950s sci-fi B movies, Christmas on Mars. Those disparate efforts all played a role in the creation of Yoshimi, which Coyne once described as a “candy-coated potato chip” of an album. On Yoshimi, the western twang and martian bleeps meld with the maximalist space-rock the band had perfected on its previous album, The Soft Bulletin. That record secured the group’s place in the pantheon of consequential album artists, freeing the Lips from the one-hit-wonder tag that had clung to the group since 1993’s “She Don’t Use Jelly.” Yoshimi found Coyne comfortably settling into middle age, complete with gray streaks in his signature long wavy hair. The outsider-artist posture he’d displayed in the 1980s was gone; he was now a seasoned seer, albeit one who still possessed the gift of childlike wonder. How did Yoshimi’s “Do You Realize??”—which reminds listeners that “happiness makes you cry” and “everyone you know someday will die”—end up in three national ad campaigns? Answer: Because while the lyrics are heavy, the brand managers felt safe, knowing Coyne was holding our hand as we embrace the existential crisis. If that’s not enough, the album’s first four songs tell the story of a young Japanese girl, Yoshimi, who’s staring down an army of robots—one of which is having an existential crisis of its own. When the fog of war clears, and Yoshimi comes to an end, the questions linger: Who was right, and who was wrong? Does free will exist? And, to quote Coyne, “Do you realize we're floating in space?”

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