The Flaming Lips

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros.)

Over the course of nearly 20 years, the Flaming Lips have always managed to sound like only one band -- the Flaming Lips. As early as 1987's Oh My Gawd!!! ... the Flaming Lips, the band had solidified its style: equal parts punk, pop, and psychedelia, with some of the catchiest melodies since the Archies. After landing a deal with Warner Bros. in the early '90s, the group continued its heady path, heightening its sound with its major-label budget.

Then came 1997's magnum opus, Zaireeka, a four-CD box set meant to be played at the same timeon four different stereos. The effort was an altogether new listening experience -- disorienting and sublime, with bizarre production effects and quirky songwriting.

Unfortunately, Zaireekamay prove to be the Lips' peak, as their later material has slipped into mediocrity. While critically acclaimed, 1999's The Soft Bulletin was meandering and lackluster, its adventurous keyboard arrangements and pre-programmed beats weakened by wan vocals and forgettable songwriting. The Flaming Lips' new album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, is equally dull, continuing the same plain path.

Not much has changed sonically on Yoshimi. Singer Wayne Coyne and company still utilize a vast array of electronic and acoustic instruments to foster an "anything goes" musical vibe. The new songs are lighter and more playful than recent efforts, but they continue to suffer from trite, dully delivered lyrics such as, "Do you realize/ That everyone you know someday will die?" (from the first single, "Do You Realize?"). In fact, the LP's high point, the squealing "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2," is an instrumental, which illustrates just how bland Coyne's words have become.

In the end Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robotsstill sounds like no one but the Flaming Lips, but the result is hollow and without substance. (One can only hope the band is saving its A material for two forthcoming projects: The Southern Oklahoma Cosmic Trigger Contest, a soundtrack to a documentary about weirdo Okie fishermen; and the score to its own sci-fi flick, Christmas on Mars.) This record is like one of those fancy prototypes the auto industry showcases in those annual expositions: It would be the sweetest ride on the block, if it only had an engine.

 
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