September 5, 2002

Coyne Lands Heads Up

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The word “genius” is tossed around loosely in some circles until it virtually means no more than “good,” which already means just “mediocre,” which by the way is even worse than “bad.” However, there are a select few on the fringes of society, or the ghetto streets of Oklahoma City perhaps (The Flaming Lips’ birthplace if you didn’t know), that deserve the label of genius. Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips is quite possibly at the forefront of this select few. Our generation’s Brian Wilson made his Pet Sounds in 1999, with the release of the already classic masterpiece, The Soft Bulletin. Almost universally lauded, it was that album which provided Coyne’s densely layered melodies and surrealist lyrics with the thick orchestration they always yearned for. Since “She Don’t Use Jelly” and even earlier, the singer/songwriter/guitarist/genius displayed a clear fascination with studio wizardry, but The Soft Bulletin brought it all to unparalleled fruition.

Yoshimi continues in the path set by its predecessor, substituting a little more electronic embellishment for a little less symphonic pop. Not to say the pop is gone, of course. For instance, Coyne humbly borrows the familiar melody from Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” for the opening “Fight Test.” Some audience noise and sci-fi synthesizers permeate this track and the few following, providing one thread in the loose concept of the album which, as the title suggests, is an altercation between a Japanese girl and a herd of pink robots. That’s our genius for ya’. Programmed beats take over for “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21,” as Coyne’s voice quivers in falsetto on lines that sound stolen from an episode of Star Trek. The Lips’ mad brilliance is even more evident in “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt. 1,” as what would be a simple folk tune is bolstered by gurgling synths, a hip-hop beat, and Dave Fridmann’s striking production work. The concept seems to vanish, however, after the at times chaotic “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt. 2,” with stormy beats and the Boredoms’ Yoshimi Yokota wailing in the background (yes, the title makes at least a little more sense).

The formula of the Lips can actually be fairly easily distilled; it’s the tortoise and the hare. As on the stellar “Are You A Hypnotist?,” the drums gallop while the melody crawls along. On Yoshimi, Coyne adds a few more musical and thematic contrasts to his arsenal. Acoustic guitars and the usual reflections on mortality and loss are paired with electronic music and lyrics about robots. Everything seems to converge on “Do You Realize?,” the current single and possibly the album’s catchiest track. These are some fine lyrics to have stuck in your head at least: “Let them know you realize that life goes fast/ It’s hard to make the good things last/ You realize the sun doesn’t go down/ It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.”

So, the big question remains. Does Yoshimi live up to the standard set by The Soft Bulletin? And I suppose it does as best it can, but not without any complaints. For one, it’s too short (45 minutes) and maybe a bit too sweet, sometimes sounding like a band parodying itself. This may not be far from what they’ve always done, for with Lips come tongues and cheeks, but here the sincere moments that made songs like “Waitin’ for a Superman” from The Soft Bulletin so utterly celestial don’t reach the same depth. So, although it’s no masterpiece, it still may be one of the best albums of the year.

Archived article by Ben Kupstas