The test begins... NOW!

The Flaming Lips have landed with a follow-up to 1999's mid-career masterpiece, the Soft Bulletin: Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.

After an introduction by way of acid announcer, Fight Test kicks the album off with a verse-melody lifted from Cat Stevens' Father and Son, modified to provide a familar, warm feeling to the listener, electronics warbling and persistent, consistent inventive drumming to drive the beat along. There are many sounds throughout this album, small sounds that one may not necessarily find on the first few listens. Wayne Coyne's voice has garnered a level of emotional honesty while still maintaining the singularity of his singing perspective.

And I don't know where the sunbeams end and the starlight begins
and it's all a mystery,
and I don't know how a man decides what's right for his own life
and it's all a mystery...

The sounds of a crowd cheering segue into the next track, One More Robot. At a recent album preview-concert Wayne in his usual extrapolated explanation-mode detailed some of the evident story line within the album, and this song's relation to it: A robot has been sent to destroy the young Japanese hero, Yoshimi. But in its journey it has fallen in love with her, complicating his robot brain. He also recognizes that this story line is only applied in the context of the album, but the actual intended meanings and interpretations form a more human context, the human machines that exist around all of us--and the chance that they may convert to a higher state of consciousness.

Unit 3000-21 is warming, makes a humming sound.
When its circuits duplicate emotion,
and the sense of coldness detaches
as it tries to comfort its sadness,
one more robot learns to be, something more than a machine...

One More Robot also informs the listener the direction the Lips have pointed themselves: they are not afraid of using electronics to convey a particular idea and emotion. The album is filled with glitched drum patterns, warm, organic synth tones that evolve, every single voice and word sung is incredibly manipulated through after-effects processing. Wayne has said in an interview that as the Flaming Lips have evolved they've become more and more experimental, but that the music itself sounds yet more conventional. It all depends on how you look at it.

The sound of a crowd cheering on Yoshimi, a little girl with a big mission: to defeat those evil robots!! Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1 has this perfect acoustic guitar sound, passed through processing effects. Underneath it all is the talking Yoshimi in Japanese. Harmonies rise up from the glitching, and it ends on a note, ready to prepare for the next song.

Her name is Yoshimi,
She's a blackbelt in karate
Working for the city
She has to her discipline her body
Cause she knows that
It's demanding
to defeat those evil machines.
I know she can beat them
oh Yoshimi, they don't believe me
but you won't let those robots eat me
Yoshimi, they don't believe me
but you won't let those robots defeat me.
Those evil-natured robots,
they're programmed to destroy us.
She's got to be strong to fight them
So she's taking lots of vitamins
Cause she knows that it'd be tragic
if those evil robots win.
I know she can beat them

Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 2. This track is instrumental. The bass synth is very old-skool and deep and gurgling. It'll blow a subwoofer, underneath Yoshimi is talking again. This is battle music, this is the war between Yoshimi and the Pink Robots taking its first round. Underneath, Yoshimi is screaming in piercing voices, obviously getting the shit beat out of her. But she can do it! We know she can! Awesome effects processing and a climax musical crescendo make this song just fucking incredible. Wayne said this in an interview with Rolling Stone: "You know how on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" they have that woman screaming? And on Dark Side of the Moon, they have that gospel-esque singing on there? When I hear that music, I think of a robust black woman singing with these English guys sitting around. And when we were recording Yoshimi doing this screaming, it was apparent to us that she was a small, crazy Japanese gal, but we didn't know if the audience would hear it that way. Sometimes you just hear a voice and associate an image with that and move on. But we didn't want someone to think this was a black woman or a white woman. We wanted it to sound very specific: a crazy Japanese woman. We just thought that was a funner image. So we thought it would be smart if we said it was Yoshimi, and then you'd think, 'Oh, she's a Japanese girl.'"

In the Morning of the Magicians arises from the previous cacophony. It is a pleasant song in the vein of many songs on the Soft Bulletin, soft Wizard of Oz-like voices humming it up underneath, and exactly what one would expect from a song that sings "what is love/what is hate? and why does it matter? is to love just to waste? how can it matter?" The guitar inside is crisp, clean & clear. This songs crowning achievement lyrically is when he sings: "as the dawn began to break, I had to surrender. The universe will have its way, too powerful to master..." More cheering ends the song, as another trip begins.

Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell sounds at first like a song you never thought the Lips would play. It almost has this feeling of old R&B.

I was waiting on a moment
but the moment never came
all the billion other moments
were just slipping all away
I must have been tripping
just ego tripping
I was wanting you to love me
but your love, it never came
all the other love around me
was just wasting all away
I must have been tripping
just ego tripping..

Another of the album's crowning achievements is Are you a Hypnotist?? One of their darker pieces, the drumming is persistent and picks up where Ego Tripping left off. It contains one of the most brilliant choruses I've heared in a long time, not to mention a build-up that will remain unequaled for quite some time:

What is this?
Are you some kind of hypnotist,
waving your powers for hours?
The sun eclipsed
behind the clouds.
I thought I
recognized your face
amongst all of those strangers
but I am the stranger.
now amongst all of the recognized

Every moment in the song is packed with sounds. Like the Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi was recorded using state-of-the-art computer processing, so that every moment could be digitally manipulated beyond belief. This gives the album a very incredible, blisfful feeling. It is the soundtrack to the summer, and Wayne recognizes this with the next track, It's Summertime.

But as far as simple beauty goes, in the same respect of soul destruction as Waiting for a Superman, Do You Realize? picks us up and tears us apart:

Do you realize you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize we are floating in space
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes
Let them know you realize the clock goes fast
it's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun don't go down,
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning around.
There is a guitar here that bounces the song along, and the killer everybody dies line is sung with the most incredible honesty. It hits me and I want to destroy all this flimsy world, while simultaneously being comforted by Wayne's communicative positivity in the message.

All We Have is Now is an apt follow up. There is a deep bass voice echoing most of the lines, and its meaning is very evident in the grand scheme.

As logic stands you couldn't meet a man who's from the future
but logic broke as he appeared he spoke about the future
"we're not gonna make it" he explained how the end will come,
you and me were never meant to be part of the future
all we have is now,­ all we've ever had was now
I noticed that he had a watch and hat
that looked familiar he was me from a dimension torn free of the future

The album concludes with another instrumental, ripe with odd voices and space sounds, Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia). An elegant conclusion to the album. It is clear that the Flaming Lips have put an incredible amount of effort into this album. The sound is awesome. I've had a unmastered copy for a little over a month and half, and recently obtained the final cut, which this album review represents. The sound quality has improved dramatically from the masters, and it is truly a masterpiece. Look for it in stores on July 15, 2002. And now we wait patiently for Christmas on Mars...

The test is... OVER!

Tracklist
  1. Fight Test
  2. One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21
  3. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt. 1
  4. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt. 2
  5. In the Morning of the Magicians
  6. Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell
  7. Are you a Hypnotist??
  8. It's Summertime
  9. Do You Realize?
  10. All We Have is Now
  11. Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)

Source:
Rolling Stone http://www.rollingstone.com/news/newsarticle.asp?nid=15764

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