he Flaming Lips are old men now. They’ve been around for fucking years. We can’t possibly expect them to still be making great records.
Yoshimi... has been hailed as a modern American psychedelic masterpiece, touching, innovative, awesome, magical. In the UK Uncut magazine claimed it was the best album released in the magazine’s five year history, and awarded it an unprecedented five and a half stars out of five. Last month I saw The Flaming Lips live in London and it was the greatest, most magical evening of my life, full of confetti, glitter, balloons, men dressed as frogs, mechanical doves, smoke, noise, and beautiful, gauche, imaginative music. Each of The Flaming Lips’ last four albums has been wonderful in it’s own way, from Zaireeka’s simultaneous sound-source madness to Clouds Taste Metallic’s goofy alt-rock psychedelic noise. But The Flaming Lips are old men now.
Yoshimi... is smooth, shiny and clean. The production is technically outstanding throughout, electronic burbles, starlight twinkles and acoustic shuffles tied together beautifully with Wayne Coyne’s asthmatic-child of a voice. But it is not a masterpiece. Far from it. Most tunes consist simply of an acoustic strum and Wayne’s vocal plus layer upon layer of clean, electronic overdubs, be they fat analogue squelches, rolling, anti-septic basslines, resonating bells or prog keys. The overall affect is tiresome and unexciting, a far cry from the exuberant what-will-they-do-next anticipation of their live show, the sound fussily arranged and calculated until it becomes lifelessly mechanical and anaemic. Sure, they don’t sound like anybody else making music today, and they clearly still have plenty of ideas, but they’ve not gone about presenting them in a way that works here.
On the surface Yoshimi... is part concept album, the concept being the rather too idiosyncratic conceit of a Japanese girl defending the world against giant pink robots, and of machines learning to ‘feel’. Maaaan. But the real theme behind Yoshimi... is the journey to responsibility, learning to stand up and take account of who you are and what you’ve done. Bleurgh.
Lyrically there’s no movement onwards from The Soft Bulletin, in fact they’ve regressed. The touching emotional allegories and simple metaphors of that album have been dragged back to remedial level, reverting to platitudes and clichés of the “what is love?” and “isn’t grass beautiful?” kind. Hearing Coyne trying to be sweet and fatalistic and honest singing “do you realise that everyone you know someday will die?” on ‘Do You Realise??’ is just disappointing after the wonderment of ‘The Spark That Bled’ or ‘What Is The Light?’ from their last album. ‘Fight Test’ contains probably the best lyrics on the album, as well as one of the most energised tunes, but it also annoyingly contains the melody from ‘Father & Son’ by Cat Stevens, suggesting that the Flips aren’t quite as original as everyone claims. And ‘In The Morning Of The Magicians’ is just overlong, faux-naïve childish prog-wankery of the highest order, boring and begging to be skipped.
The Flaming Lips are still a great band, and Yoshimi... is far from being a bad album, but it’s not the epoch-defining work of genius that so many people have been hailing it as. A serious case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, I’m afraid.