Thursday, May 2, 2024

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (Early Version)


The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

(Early Version reconstruction by soniclovenoize)

1.  Do You Realize???

2.  Are You A Hypnotist?

3.  Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots pt 1

4.  Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots pt 2

5.  Funeral In My Head

6.  Up Above The Daily Hum

7.  Fight Test 

8.  One More Robot

9.  Sympathy 3000-21

10.  Ego Tripping At The Gates of Hell

11.  In The Morning of The Magicians

12.  It’s Summertime

13.  All We Have is Now

14.  Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia)

This is a very special Album That Never Was– unlike most of my reconstructions, there is little to no information available on it, and admittedly, much of this reconstruction is based on my own personal memory of it.  Often, it seems I was the only one who actually remembers the brief existence of this, a sole historian to tout its significance!  So in a belated honor of the 20th anniversary of The Flaming Lips’ mainstream breakthrough album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, this is a reconstruction of the pre-mastered, fourteen-track “early version” of the album that was leaked several months before its release, which featured a completely different tracklist, among other subtle mixing differences.  

By the early 2000s, The Flaming Lips had already done it all: a decade as a thriving weirdo indie band; one-hit-wonders with 1994’s “She Don’t Use Jelly”; experimental boundary-pushers with 1997’s four-disc album Zaireeka (meant to be played simultaneously!) and 1998’s Boombox Experiments (which employed fifty audience member-helmed boomboxes as a chaotic symphony literally conducted by the band members themselves); and finally the genius arteurs of 1999’s The Soft Bulletin, the album dubbed “The Pet Sounds of The 90s”.  Treading uncertain ground, the trio went from ‘nothing left to lose’, to being the face of cutting edge music in the 21st Century.  What next?

It was evident that the band themselves were not quite sure how to follow-up the masterpiece of The Soft Bulletin, as seen by their decision to showcase entirely new material in their 1999 BBC sessions in April and June.  Including the ominous Can-influenced “The Switch That Turned Off The Universe”, the acoustic ballad “We Can’t Predict The Future”, and two tunes that seemed cut from the Soft Bulletin cloth, “Up Above The Daily Hum” and the meandering instrumental “It Remained Unrealisable”, the songs only hinted at a path forward, and certainly did not have a unified sound or concept.  Unsure of the quality of the new material, the band shifted gears and started separate “side quests” which would inform their upcoming tenth studio album, creating the sound that would finally break the band through to the mainstream– Yoshimi Battle The Pink Robots.  

The Lips’ first stop to battling the pink robots was their old home of Oklahoma City– or at least the backwoods of it.  Director and long-time friend of the band Bradley Beasly tasked the band to craft the soundtrack to his upcoming documentary Okie Noodling, a short film about a unique style of handfishing in rural Oklahoma.  Returning to their homemade studio and practice space, the band crafted several folk-influenced tracks that sounded less like the triumphant and majestic pop of The Soft Bulletin, and more like a cartoonish Zeppelin III.  While the material was never meant for a widespread release (only a promo single was released, featuring the only vocal-based recording of the batch, “The Southern Oklahoma Cosmic Trigger Contest”), the laidback acoustics felt refreshing to the band after the multilayered complexities of the studio-created The Soft Bulletin.  

Next, Flaming Lips figurehead Wayne Coyne decided he wanted to make a movie– and it was going to be about the first Chrstmas on Mars!  Never a stranger to self-made media, including directing their own music videos and on-stage video content, Coyne sought to write and direct the band’s own foray into film using household objects and junkyard acquisitions to create the interior of a space station orbiting Mars.  With the clout of their own absurdity and sheer DIY optimism–as well as friends in high-ish places such as actor Elijah Wood and former Blues Clues host Steve Burns–The Flaming Lips slowly started to assemble their own indie B movie flick.  Naturally, one of the first steps in the film's creation was the soundtrack itself, and unlike the very human-sounding Okie Noodling soundtrack, the Christmas on Mars soundtrack became very electronic and lonely.  

Although the film itself wouldn’t be completed and released until 2008, these early electronic-driven sound experiments set a new series of sonic explorations in motion: the intentional merging of the contrasting sounds of the acoustic Okie Noodling soundtrack and the electronic Christmas on Mars soundtrack.  By spring 2001, The band convened at long-time producer Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Studios to record the album proper, tracking “It’s Summertime”, “Are You a Hypnotist”, “Utopia Planitia” and “Sytris Major”, all featuring a very distinct sound from the DIY symphonic pop majesty of The Soft Bulletin, that incorporated the aesthetics of both Okie Noodling and Christmas on Mars soundtracks.  

Additional studio bouts throughout the summer of 2001 yielded even more material such as “All We Have is Now”, “Do You Realize?”, “Ego Tripping at The Gates of Hell”, “Funeral in My Head”, “In The Mourning of The Magicians”, a new, more polished version of “Up Above The Daily Hum” and a cryptically titled “The Pink Robots”.  It was this final track that seemed to tie everything together, coupled with more material recorded later that year: “Fight Test” and “One More Robot”; although not initially intended as a concept album, the series of songs could be loosely connected into a storyline that would unify and define the album.  

Released in July 2002 to instant critical acclaim but a slow burn to commercial success, it wasn’t the singles “Do You Realize” or “Fight Test” that secured a well-earned mainstream popularity.  Instead, the band toured relentlessly with less of a live rock show, but more of a surreal multimedia extravaganza, which seemed to translate particularly well to the burgeoning “jam band” festival crowd.  Also, a fabricated feud with notoriously eccentric alt-folk rocker Beck couldn’t hurt!  

Although Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots became a long-shot 2000s classic, the album was very nearly a very different album.  Although a number of fans have debated if The Flaming Lips had intended the album to be a loose concept album or not, the original sequence of the album that had leaked several months before it’s street date showed a much more esoteric album, with the “conceptual” songs peppered throughout rather than setting the album’s stage in the top-half, revealing Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots as more of another collection of late-era Flaming Lips songs that contemplated love and death, sentience and madness, than a story about a Japanese warrior battling pink robots!  

Strangely enough, this alternate fourteen-track version of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots has been completely lost to time.  Originally leaking on Napster and other file-sharing programs in the spring of 2002, this listener promptly burned it to a CD-R and spent his final spring in college playing out this clearly unmastered cut from his favorite band, a secret only I knew.  It was much to my surprise when the album was properly released a few months later, hearing a number of subtle mixing differences, the literal lack of two complete tracks (one of them my favorite of the album!) and the album opening with “Fight Test” instead of the obvious “Do You Realize”.  Even more surprising, I have found very few Flaming Lips fans who even remember this leak, let alone the specifics of it.  In this sense, this Album That Never Was is very different from the rest, which usually tries to rely on confirmable data and primary sources; here, you’ll just have to take my word for it!  

In reconstructing this original version of Yoshimi, we will generally use the final album mixes, since they are the most refined; my memory states that it was not the final mixes I originally heard in the Spring of 2002, although those specific mix differences I no longer are able to recall.  Here I am crossfading the songs as I recall hearing them.  We will also be using some selections from the stealthly-released One More Robot promo CD, which was former-drummer Kliph Scurlock’s compilation of alternate and early mixes of the Yoshimi album (which partly replicates this early version I have reconstructed!).  It is of note that an idisyncracity of the original leaked pre-master was that 1) the synth intro to “One More Robot” was presented as its own, short track and 2) the ending of “One More Robot” (the “Sympathy 3000-21” segment) was cut-off abruptly.  I have always thought this was a double-mastering error, and here I present my own “fix”, what I believe was originally intended: “One More Robot” and its outro “Sympathy 3000-21” are simply presented as their own separate tracks. 

The album begins with “Do You Realize”, truly one of the greatest pop songs of the 2000s, here as a slightly different mastering found on the One More Robot CD.  This is then followed by “Are You a Hypnotist” from the original album master, which was actually the second track of the album before being unfairly pushed forward to the last third of the proper release; this is a much better place for it!  Following are both parts of “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” from the original album, that directly crossfades into the audience introduction to “Funeral In My Head” (taken from the One More Robot promo CD), one of the songs dropped from the album entirely and released as a b-side to the “Do You Realize” single.  This is followed by “Up Above The Daily Hum”, another song dropped from the album and relinquished to b-side territory, taken from the Do You Realize CD single.  

“Fight Test” begins the second half of the album (rather than the first on the proper release), segueing into “One More Robot”, both taken from the original album.  As aforementioned, “Sympathy 3000-21” is made into its own track, although we are using the full version, rather than the leak which cuts out early.  Next is “Ego Tripping at The Gates of Hell”, mostly occupying the middle-album as the final version of the album, here an alternate master taken from One More Robot.  Following is the epic “In The Mourning of The Magicians”, here placed much later in the album (before moved up to take the space vacated by “Funeral In My Head”); since the original version had the cold synth intro without the audience noise from “Yoshimi Part 2”, here we use the version from One More Robot with a clean intro!  This is followed by the extended version of “It’s Summertime”, also taken from One More Robot.  Closing out both iterations of the album are “All We Have is Now” and “Approaching Pavis Mons by Balloon”, both taken from the original Yoshimi master.  

How does this version compare with what was finally released?  First off, this version of the album is LONG.  Up until that point, most Flaming Lips albums spanned 12 songs over 45 minutes or so; this is a fourteen track album spanning nearly an hour!  Although I rued the decision to cut the album down to a more standard length, I understood why it was done, and even agreed about the songs cut.  Also, the sequence of the first half of the album creates a more meandering yet epic feel to the album; it’s final release seems more direct, and makes more sense if it was to be considered a concept record (which I never believed it was in the first place!).  Either way, here is a new and interesting way to listen to Yoshimi, unheard for twenty years!  

Sources used:

  • Do You Realize (2002 CD single)
  • Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (original 2002 CD master)
  • One More Robot (2012 promo CD)



1 comment:

  1. Wow! Thanks for putting all this together and the explanatory notes. Today I am very glad that you have too much time on your hands!!