15 years ago, in 2002, The Flaming Lips released the seminal album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Despite first emerging onto the music scene some 20 years earlier, The Flaming Lips create a unique, intriguing, and complex body of work in this album. Subsequent listen-throughs reveal that there are really two albums in Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
The first is an idiosyncratic romp through battles with space baddies, and intergalactic adventure. The scenes are set with a pleasant blend of acoustic instruments and synthesizer notes. Symphonic swells and bright tones fill the backdrop, but the most exciting parts of the production are the sci-fi melodies and echoes of lyrics which are laced throughout and leave delightful discoveries to make each listening experience unique. The second album is a deeply melancholy, existential crisis in song. Songs about the plain regrets or sadnesses of humans alternate with questions of what these woes even mean in the scope of the vast universe around us.
The marriage of these two albums gives us songs like “Fight Test”, an almost “coming-of-age” story with a tinny guitar melody about a man looking back on a past relationship and regretting that he didn’t fight for the girl he loved when he had the chance. On the other hand, it also gives us “The Morning of the Magicians”, where the singer asks us what is love and what is hate, and why does it matter?. He is waking up, perhaps after a long night, reflecting on how the universe seems to exist around him in ways so wonderful that they seem to be magical. He’s questioning his place in it. Is to love just a waste, how can it matter?
In the penultimate song, we meet a version of our main character from the future, in keeping with the sci-fi vibe of the whole album. His future self tells him that they (or is it just he?) won’t make it. All we have is now. All we’ve ever had is now. The lyricist ends the album (the last song doesn’t really have any words) with the at once hopeful and crushing realization that his only promised moment is the current one. The pairing of phrases creates a paradoxical loop: If all he has is the current moment, then he has no moments from the past to reference. If he has no moments from the past, then how does he know that all he’s ever had is the moment at hand? Unless, of course, he means that this current moment is all he’s ever had, and that is life has been leading to the moment when he meets his future self (is his future self revisiting his past selves in the moments before death as his life flashes before his eyes?), perhaps a metaphor for death itself. If indeed my half-baked theory is correct, that’s quite a grim last message with which to leave the listeners!
This brilliant space odyssey through the delightfully twisted crises of our hero has quickly earned its place in my vinyl bin. (I know, don’t you just hate me a little more for that last sentence?)