After years of struggling in the alt-rock wilderness, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots was the first release by The Flaming Lips that you could say had been ‘long awaited’ by just about anybody outside of North America. Sure they had their small bands of admirers scattered across the globe previously, but The Soft Bulletin had alerted the wider world to their charms and now they had gained an audience big enough to justify the faith that Warner Brothers had placed in them when they signed them in the early 90s. That’s nearly a decade wait for a hit album, only punctuated by a freak hit with “She Don’t Use Jelly”. How many other bands would have been dropped like a stone by a major label after such dismal sales? But The Flaming Lips are nothing if not tenacious survivors and with The Soft Bulletin they had finally delivered on their promise and released a truly world beating album. The question was now, could they follow it up?
Although not the revelation that the previous album was, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots is not to be underestimated. The sweeping strings and bombastic drums may take a back seat, but the fine structures and care remains. Where The Soft Bulletin was organic, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots is more mechanical, but no less human. Of course the musical genius behind the turnabout in The Flaming Lip’s commercial fortunes was drummer Steven Drozd, one of the finest musicians and arrangers working in the broad church of rock music.
The themes of loss, death and mortality are carried over from the previous album and the lyrics still inspire you to struggle on in the face of adversity, regardless of what life may throw at you. The three singles from the album are it’s strongest moments, with “Fight Test” and the “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt1” being as strong as anything the band has previously written. “Do You Realize??” finally gave them a bona fide hit single in the UK, even if it was only a modest one. It was a brilliant song anyway and it is probably the song that the unconverted most associate with The Flaming Lips. In most circumstances like this a band will then complain that the one song that the public knows them for has become an albatross around their necks, not so Wayne Coyne and co. They’ve said on more than one occasion that they feel honoured that one of their songs is used to soundtrack not only funerals, but also births. Few bands are this humble.
Perhaps it’s this generosity of spirit which separates The Flaming Lips from so many other contemporary bands. They seem to be able to deliver the biggest and most honest gestures without resorting to schmaltz. They just want to make the universe a better place and seem to go about creating amazing, all embracing music without greed or malice.