Flaming Lips Remind Us To Live For The Now

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Some of the best music is the kind that can't be described easily -- or better still, can't be described at all. Over the past two decades, Oklahoma City's Flaming Lips have produced plenty of it, guided by an offbeat creative yearning with seemingly boundless ambition.

"Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," released July 16 via Warner Bros., is the latest superlative sonic salvo fired by a band responsible for everything from an enduring alt-rock anthem (1994's top-10 airplay hit "She Don't Use Jelly") to 1997's "Zaireeka," a single album split onto four separate CDs.

The album debuted last week at No. 50 on The Billboard 200, marking the group's first appearance on the chart since 1995.

The new set expands on the glorious, widescreen experiments of 1999's "The Soft Bulletin," which despite having sold only 100,000 units in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, was hailed by many critics as one of the most compelling albums released in the last decade. Again working in tandem with producer Dave Fridmann, the Lips spent more than a year crafting the skewed masterpiece that is "Yoshimi."

Indeed, since the late '90s departure of guitarist Ronald Jones, Lips principals Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, and Michael Ivins have operated less and less like a traditional band. For one, a song must be finished from beginning to end (including recording and mixing) before work on another commences. Idea fragments are paired with outlandish and complex counterparts, with no regard for the difficulty of eventually reproducing them live.

"We decided, let's think of us as being a studio creation," Coyne says. "For better or worse, I think our best moments are something intangible that comes out of the speakers. It's not a performance. In a sense, because we work with Dave Fridmann and he's our friend, he freed us of worrying about reproducing it. He said, 'Look fellas. Let's make music. It's your problem to present it to people later.'"

Like its predecessor, "Yoshimi" is crammed with curious details (a booming announcer's voice, a live audience that repeatedly applauds for no apparent reason, the hyperactive chirping of Boredoms drummer Yoshimi P-we). Yet somehow, the songs overflow with beautiful melodies, from the gently grooving artificial-intelligence rumination "One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21" to the heart-heavy "It's Summertime" and "In the Morning of the Magicians" and the endearingly playful "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1."

Coyne's unique, frank narratives wrestle with living in the present and ponder the possibilities of the future. The death of his father had a major impact on the lyrics for "The Soft Bulletin," but the untimely passing of a close friend early in the "Yoshimi" sessions ultimately empowered Coyne to channel his emotions through words and music.

"The idea is that as we become older and look at what life is really all about, do we all end up with our face against the wall saying, 'Life is too hard to look at?,'" he asks. "I wanted it not to be that way. I want to be able to say, 'Let's look at life and understand it and let's know what it is.' We have something to smile about. Our friends are all going to die. So what? That means you should live right now."

The Lips unveiled the new material on a U.K. tour earlier this month, which served as a warm-up for the band's stint on this summer's inaugural Unlimited Sunshine outing. That trek, also featuring Cake, Modest Mouse, and De La Soul, runs from July 31 to Aug. 31. Afterward, the group heads to Japan and Europe before returning to the States for a fall headlining swing.

Excerpted from the Aug. 3, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

For information on ordering a copy of the issue, click here.