Review Summary: By using a storyline for half the album and a ridiculous amount of different sounds throughout the entire album, The Flaming Lips create a masterpiece.
After their critically acclaimed breakthrough The Soft Bulletin, The Flaming Lips could have done two things. They could have reverted back to their previous sound. Or, they could have expanded on The Soft Bulletin’s sound. Luckily for us, they did the latter. The result was a classic album, filled with lots of different, interesting sounds.
This album is a half-concept album. The first four tracks are the only ones that clearly show a storyline. Frontman Wayne Coyne has made it clear that the album is not intended to be a concept album, as well. However, after the first four songs, nearly every track is a melancholy love song. The lyrics ponder love, life, etc. The beautiful thing about this album is that the music captures the mood the lyrics try to create perfectly.
One thing can be lost with everything going in the album, though, which should not be lost. With the various string arrangements, numerous recording studio effects (Wayne Coyne has said that if anyone asked him what instrument he play, he would say that he plays the instrument recording studio), the wonderful basslines in this album can get lost in the mix. This should not be the case, for this album is full of jumpy, fun, catchy basslines which help the album reach the level that it’s at.
The music in this album is both a step towards and away from the mainstream for The Flaming Lips. The melodies in this album are very soothing and catchy. However, the music is more abstract, thanks to lots of electronic effects. This album has enough catchy tunes to draw mainstream attention, but doesn’t sell out, thus keeping the fans the band earned with the last album.
The album kicks off with “Fight Test”, which, after a lawsuit, partial credit of the song (the vocal melody), belongs to Cat Stevens. A definite highlight, it starts off with some synthesizer noises, then an automated voice comes in saying, “The test begins… now!” and the music starts. This song is really easy to sing along to, and is very melodic and catchy. It closes with the same voice saying, “The test is over… now”, with now echoing. The strings in the song are quite effective, as are the sounds at the end which lead directly into “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21”. While the first song establishes the girl, Yoshimi, this track establishes the robot character, Unit 3000-21. The robot is in love with the girl, but he’s a robot. The robot wants to be a human, so he can properly show his feelings for Yoshimi, but he can’t. The song itself features one of the best bass-lines in the album, only accompanied by some interesting drums in the verses and, of course, the vocals. The outro makes this song perfect, with a beautiful strings arrangement.
Next is “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt. 1”. Opening with some catchy acoustic guitar, this is overall one of the catchiest tracks on the album. The drums are incredibly bland, although, to its credit, is incredibly original. In this track, Yoshimi is battling the pink robots (surprise!) and one of those robots is the one that loves her. This is followed by “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt. 2”. It starts out with a sound I can only describe as liquidating. Don’t ask me where I got that image, but that’s what I think of. The song itself is entirely instrumental, except for some loud, shrieking screams. A very interesting way to end the concept part of the album. Supposedly, Yoshimi has a duel with the robot that she loves, and kills him. She is unaware of the robot’s feelings for her. The instruments actually do a decent job of telling this story. The song ends with cheers for Yoshimi after she slays the robot, which segues into the next track, “In the Morning of the Magicians”.
At this point it should be made known that the storyline is a metaphor. According to Wayne Coyne, the pink robots are cancer. The girl is trying to fight off the cancer, and she eventually does. I know, it’s odd, but it makes sense, once you put some thought into it.
Back to “In the Morning of the Magicians”. This another definite highlight. Featuring a catchy, looping bassline, the intro only features that and a driving drumbeat. Some synthesizers also add to the mood. Then, everything drops out, leaving only vocals, strings, and guitar. The strings really enhance the mood for this track. The bass and drums slowly work their way back in, and the process repeats. The song doesn’t get repetitive, though, and is my favorite track on the album. “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” is next. It features another insanely catchy bassline. The drums are softer in the mix, and the vocals can be heard equally as loud as the bass. The flute gives this track its final touches. The fadeout is way too long for my liking, though.
“Are you a Hypnotist??” opens with a Gothic choir singing. Then a driving drum beat comes in, one of the best beats on the album. The effects in this track are some of the best on the album; they really drive the song along. This is followed by “It’s Summertime”, which is, along with “All We Have is Now”, the two weakest tracks in the album. These songs aren’t terrible, just not as good as the rest. Both create a nice atmosphere, but are lacking a bit overall. Sandwiched between these two tracks is another highlight, “Do You Realize??”. Featuring the best lyrics on the album, the song ponders life and things that people don’t realize. Lyrics like, “Do you realize that happiness makes you cry, do you realize that everyone you know someday will die” may be considered cheesy by some people. However, for me, they are really clever and make you think about life.
The album ends with another highlight, “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)”. This song won a Grammy for best instrumental track, an award the band would win again when they released their follow-up album. The drums, which are double-tracked, are some of the best on the album. The song summarizes the entire album, featuring strings, shouts in the background, and weird effects that work brilliantly. The only thing it is lacking is a driving bassline. The guitar adds to the atmosphere. The things that perfect this song are the flute and the horns section. Each brings a different, crucial element to the song that adds to its beauty.
Overall, this is an album that everyone should listen to at least once. There are so many different instruments and sounds to listen to. Every listening experience promises something new for the listener to discover. Anyone who does not own this album should go buy it, especially if they like The Flaming Lips.
In the Morning of the Magicians
Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell
Do You Realize??
Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)
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