I'll admit to being one of those people who didn't really take the Flaming Lips seriously until they released their last album The Soft Bulletin. Sure, I'd sung along with "She Don't Use Jelly" when it was on the radio, and I even thought that the whole Zaireeka was a cool, if slightly mis-guided idea. It was their last album, though, that opened my eyes to what the group had accomplished. Not only have they been around for almost 20 years, but they'd gone from a rather average noise-rock band in their humble beginnings to landing a major-label deal and actually managing to keep creative control over their work. They'd paid their dues and evolved into something that I quite enjoyed, and looking back over their earlier body of work, I found many things to savor.
Along the same lines, I'll admit that it's taken me a long time to review this release, and it's not because I took my time in getting it. In fact, I picked up Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots not too long after it was released, but have been mulling it over and trying to figure out just what in the heck I think of it. It's one of those weird releases that was stunning to me on first listen, but bored me on the second spin, and has subsequently risen to some sort of ground between those two.
Musically, it's a step beyond The Soft Bulletin in terms of complexity alone. While their last album was a multi-layered release, there are still more things going on in the first half of this release than on their entire last disc. "Fight Test" opens the disc with a sound-sample countdown and launches into a chunky beat and some gurgly keyboards to back Coyne's vocals in which he contemplates whether fighting will make him less or more of a man. Throughout the track, little elements creep in and out of the mix, and the same holds true for many of the other tracks on the first part of the release. The title track "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1" mixes a strummy acoustic guitar with a fat beat, quirky electronics, and lots of little sampled sound bits (robotic voices, karate-chops, and other funny bits) while Coyne croons out some of his best surreal lyrics on the disc.
It's on the latter part of the disc that the album sort of falls into a rut, though. "All We Have Is Now" is another track that sounds good in print (mixing gorgeous layers of synths and a quiet beat behind contemplative vocals), it just sort of meanders along without doing much and ends up sounding more sterile than anything else in the end. The same sort of problem plagues "It's Summertime," in that Dave Fridmann and the gang certainly pile a lot of nice sounds together, but after listening to it once, there's nothing about it that really sticks in your head.
While I've done my share of complaining above, I still enjoy the album, but not nearly as much as their previous release. While the group has done a great job of encorporating even more digital tricks and unique sounds into the mix, they've somehow managed to create a slightly more sterile environment. The dynamics of the last release are missing except for the large drums on the two-part title track, and for a group that was formerly known for rocking out, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots sounds somewhat tame. I'm not saying that the group can't change and evolve, as they've certainly proven adept at doing such throughout their career with great success, but for all the bells and whistles on this release, it simply doesn't engage me as much as There are plenty of interesting sounds to be heard, but don't expect any "Slow Nerve Action" or even the amazing dynamic shift of "The Spark That Bled." Still better than a majority of releases that have come out this year, it feels a too polished and safe for the group who at one time had 100 different people play 100 different cassettes from their car stereos in a store parking lot.