SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2003).
How do you follow up the fantastic Soft Bulletin? If you’re The Flaming Lips, you simultaneously pull back and push forward. I often thing of Yoshimi as Bulletin part 2 but that’s really not right or fair. Yoshimi has a more Pink Floyd vibe: it’s quite mellow and folky. But nothing the Lips do can be completely commercial, so you get things in every song that add immensely to the sound, yet prevent it from complete accessibility.
The opening song “Fight Test” begins with an ominous voice saying “The test begins… NOW!!” with loud distorted crashes, and yet it quickly turns into one of their most delicate and catchy songs. The only nod to peculiarity is the watery bass lines that fill the song. It’s a mystery why this song wasn’t huge.
The next track, “One More Robot” is a delicate song reminiscent of Radiohead with the walking bassline and soft vocals. This leads to the fabulous title track “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Ropbots Pt 1.” In which yes, Yoshimi disciplines her body to take on the evil machines. It’s another shoulda-been single, with strumming acoustic guitar and more of that fabulous fat bass. ” Pt 2,” on the other hand is a noisy cacophonous march depicting the fight. It includes Yoshimi P-We from the Boredoms and OOIOO adding appropriate shrieks and screams.
Two more delicate songs follow: “In the Morning of the Magicians” is one of their longer songs and is quite mellow. It also features a very lengthy instrumental section with more of that awesome bass. “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” is the most techno sounding song I can think of by the Lips. It seems like maybe that touring work with Beck influenced them a bit.
“Are You a Hypnotist??” is a little louder and plays with the ascending chord progressions that Wayne does so well. An uplifting track, with fun, interesting notes thrown in. “It’s Summertime” has some great rubbery bouncing bass noises in the beginning, and it slowly morphs into a heavenly chorus.
The real highlight is “Do You Realize??” It’ a song that goes from happy to sad to happy all in the space of a few lines. But musically it is uplifting, with choruses and swelling orchestration. I gather this was used for some ads, but I’m just surprised it wasn’t everywhere!
“All We Have is Now” is another delicate song, with gentle verses sung in an impossibly high falsetto. The chorus is the most interesting part, with great bass notes interrupting the reverie. The album ends with a gorgeous instrumental “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)” which is an apt title (Pavonis Mons being a volcano of Mars) and it sounds quite interstellar.
What’s most notable about this album is that there’s nothing that stands out as peculiar from the rest of the record (except “Yoshimi Pt 2”). It’s a very constant record, mellow and comforting. And yet I’m not going to call it safe, because it’s not. I don’t know if it made as many critical lists as Bulletin, but I know it sold better, and it seems like a really good place to start for latter days Lips.
[READ: February 18, 2009] Never Mind the Pollacks
After reading several Pollack stories in McSweeney’s I discovered that he had written a novel. This novel.
With an awesome title! Most of the awesomeness is purely luck that his name is Pollack (Never Mind the Debraskis doesn’t have the same ring).
And with this novel Neal Pollack continues the grand mythologizing of Neal Pollack: figure of history, fantastic writer and now, most important person in rock and roll. In many ways Pollacks writing reminds me of 1990s wunderkind Mark Leyner. In Leyner’s books, especially the novel Et Tu Babe, there was usually a character called Mark Leyner who was a brilliant novelist and a steroided muscle head. In Pollack’s books, Neal Pollack is usually a god-like figure. In this book, Pollack is a Zelig-like character who influences virtually every important development in rock n’ roll history.
When Pollack was seven or eight he met an old bluesman named Clambone. Music becames his life, and he left his prosperous Jewish family to follow music. Over the course of his life, he gives Elvis his first big break, then he meets Bob Dylan and becomes friends with him and Joan Baez (something of a love triangle develops there).
But he quickly tires of folk and moves on to New York. In New York he meets Andy Warhol and introduces Lou Reed to him. Pollack plays with the Velvet Underground until they kick him out for being such a drain on their band. He also met a young James Osterberg and essentially transformed him into Iggy Pop.
As the years pass, Pollack discovers punk, first N.Y. punk (he is an unofficial fifth Ramone) and then U.K. punk where he inspires Johnny and Sid to create a band. When he lands back in America he uncovers L.A. punk, getting beaten up at a Black Flag concert. Eventually he meets Kurt Cobain, where he introduces him to indie rock (after trashing his Judas Priest collection) and Courtney Love.
Neal gets beaten up pretty much everywhere he goes (fist fights, buses and cars, even hitmen); he also scores and deals drugs to everyone and is just a mean, unpleasant asshole. He is denied and degraded by everyone he has every helped or inspired and is treated like a mule or a pariah by everyone from the Rolling Stones to Henry Rollins.
And why, you may ask? Because Neal Pollack is a rock critic. But not just any rock critic, he is the greatest rock critic every to live (even though the only examples of his criticism in the book are “this sucks” or “they are the most important band in the world.”
Oh, and this story is Neal Pollack’s epitaph. Because, indeed, Neal Pollack dies in the beginning of the book, and his life is recounted by his fellow critic (and nemesis) Paul St. Pierre. St Pierre more or less trailed Pollack’s life, meeting up with him in various places throughout history, wishing he could be as respected as Pollack, and wishing even more that Pollack would stop sleeping with his wives.
St Pierre rehashes Pollack’s life both through memory and through interviews with the famous people that were impacted by Pollack. Until the shocking climax, and peculiar ending.
Okay, but what of the book. Well, it is quite funny, as you might imagine. It also assumes you know and love music as much as Pollack (the author) clearly does. In fact the more you love music history, the more humorous you will find the book. The book also moves along at a pretty brisk pace. I finished it rather quickly.
However, I ultimately found the book to be rather insubstantial. I know that it’s a parody, mocking everything from pompous critics to pompous bands, but I’m not really sure how effective the book is in that regard. There are some very funny parts, some okay parts, and some fairly cliched parts. On the other hand, I was afraid that the book would, like Pollack’ character, overstay its welcome, but the fast pace and constant traveling does really keep the book well-paced.
Probably my favorite part of the book was the Selected Discography at the back. It contains super rare recordings with very funny annotations. My two favorites are:
Joan Baez: Live at the Apollo. (Folkways 29402) Essential listening for those who hate music.
If Courtney Hears That You’re Distributing This Nirvana Bootleg, She Will Hunt You Down and Kill You. Someday we will defeat her.
Some other good ones:
Live at the Hippodrome. The worst recording ever made of a New York Dolls concert. And that’ saying a lot.
We are Sonic Youth! Only to be released upon Thurston Moore’s death.
It’s also clear that Pollack loves his indie punk, as evidenced by these two items:
Tin Whistle. Fugazi EP 1988 (Dischord Records). Available only in very ethical record stores.
Pink Flag. Wire EP. The greatest album of all time.
If this sounds appealing, you’ll probably like it.