Wednesday, July 31, 2002


by Wayne Robins

The Flaming Lips have been recording for 20 years. Now that's something to ponder. Led by the prolific Wayne Coyne, a hint to the Lips' durability may be its proclivity to live real lives in a real place: When not touring or recording, home is still Oklahoma City. I've never been to Oklahoma City, but my guess is that it's just as unassuming a place for a rock and roll band to live as it always was.

Of course, location being at least 20 per cent of inspiration, Coyne's hometown seems a smart place for his imagination to soar. The new Lips album, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" (Warner Brothers) is a triumph of resolution of conflicting impulses. To bring it down to basics, its Ziggy Stardust meets Hello Kitty, or a corporate merger of Pink Floyd and the Powerpuff Girls. (Come to think of it, such a merger would make more sense than AOL-Time Warner or Vivendi Universal...but I'm beating a dead herring).

"Yoshimi" et al is melodious, ingratiating and sad, with lovely sci-fi blips and bleeps to leaven some of the very deep real emotions on the disc. Coyne explains the factual backstory on the Flaming Lips homepage. Let's just say it's a concept album whether Coyne planned it that way or not. Though the Lips live on the alternative rock side of the tracks, their classic sense of structure is rooted in the mainstream, middle American rock story song utilized by artists from Brian Wilson to Neil Young. "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell" is an especially pretty lament in early Neil Young mode: "I was waiting on a moment...but the moment never came," Coyne sings. "It's Summertime," the focal point of the album's emotional fulcrum (the slow realization that a friend from far away has died), has some of the melodic sing-song of guilty pleasures like America's "Ventura Highway," but with much more depth. And "Do You Realize??" (..."that happiness will make you cry") is simultaneously so exalting and so tragic that the only group that could possibly cover it would be the Up With People Plastic Ono Band.

Curious about the band (I thought I had one of their vinyl albums from the 1980s on Restless tucked away; miraculously for a band that generally floats under Soundscan's radar, they've been on Warner Bros. for 11 years), I visited their attractive and easy to navigate Web site and watched a bunch of their old videos from the album "Clouds Taste Metallic" circa 1995. The band produces their own videos, so they have the naive low budget charm of home movies. Apparently, the city zoo is a very big deal in Oklahoma City, since it is the site and inspiration for two of the videos, "This Here Giraffe" and "Christmas At the Zoo." The Replacements would seem to have been a strong influence at the time. On "Bad Days," you get to see a younger looking Coyne brushing his teeth, kids riding bicycles, watermelons smashed at a Farmer's Market and a housekeeper banging on a motel door, trying to get the band playing inside the room to quiet down. Fortunately, she does not succeed.

(c) Wayne Robins 2002. All rights reserved. Comments are welcome, as they breakup the wall of spam for which the hotmail account seems to exist. So write:

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