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The Flaming Lips have some things in common with The Butthole Surfers ... similar philosophies and roots / from the same region of the country / both bands started off at about the same time, and had the same flirtation with radio accessibility in the form of a fluke hit.

However, when the Lips made the jump over the cliff of Good Taste and began changing their approach, they still made music that sounded like them, not techno-distracted cardboard cutouts of themselves like the Surfers.

While continuing the process of maturation that Bulletin announced, Yoshimi is actually better-constructed than that record, and the band's return to semi-obscurantism is a healthy sign they won't soon be turning into Tom Petty or anything like that.

The focal-point of the album is the title character, who turns into a hero because she knows karate and won't let the pink robots defeat her. The battle is played out in a sort of Tarkus-style suite, with all fight noises represented by electronic instruments, although a much more danceable version that features better use of analog synthesizers than Emerson, Lake & Palmer's effort.

The Moog is now the instrument of choice for the band, though it's hard to say what exactly got selected from the bandroom for this record, as there are so many textures and timbres harvey-wallbanging everywhere that it's easier to just describe the sound as 'synthesized' - synthetic drums and strings and other hard-to-master instruments are everywhere.

Strangely then, Yoshimi at times sounds like it could've been made by Tangerine Dream, then at other times it sounds like Tom Tom Club, and would probably appeal to fans of either of those bands. What it absolutely won't appeal to is fans of guitar rock, especially the sort of heavy psych/rock that used to be The Flaming Lips' calling card. So I love this album in a different way but almost as strongly as Holy Grails like Priest Driven Ambulance or Hit To Death.

That's because even though the songs all sound about 20 bpm too slow, and the subdued melodicism could quite possibly pass through you like a Taco Bell Gordita, leaving even less of a trace behind, it can also feel a lot more like an irresistible force than previous albums.

The band's vision is exceedingly clear on this album, and where I felt parts of Soft Bulletin were kinda naggy, and was way too plain-spoken and insistent for the Lips, this album leaves some things for the listener to discover. I also like how I don't feel directed by the music ... is that 'Hand of God' Mellotron to be rejoiced, or feared? It's all very ambivalent.

As for the songs, I guess I feel some of them work their magic, and some are just pleasurable to listen to. "Are You a Hypnotist??" and "In the Morning of the Magicians" - both of which could be considered 'multi-part suites' ("Magicians" almost sounds like prog/rock-lite) - as well as the "Yoshimi" section, are just very successful as music, very transportative. And though "It's Summertime" is near-filler, it's the best pure-pop track on the album - very Beatle-esque, and very uplifting.

Many bands are able to tear shit down all the time, so it's very hard to find a band that so unselfishly builds people up and not come across like Bono. Well, Wayne Coyne certainly doesn't come across like some fame-crazed egomaniac, but he does seem like someone who has a very gentle connection to the world, one where his childlike observations actually have a lot of merit, such as Do you realise that everyone you know someday will die ... you realise the sun doesn't go down, it's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round ...' in "Do You Realise??".

If I had to have a stranger tell me I was terminally ill and was going to die soon, I'd want it to be Wayne Coyne - I'd like to get a little of his life-affirming positivity - All we ever had is now is fucking right.

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Posted: Saturday 25th May 2019 10:40 AM

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album review
Without an escape hatch built into The Beach Boys' longstanding Capitol Records contract, they released 20/20, which plays like one of the band's early studio albums (what, couldn't they think of another ripoff idea like Stack-O-Tracks? What about The London Symphony Orchestra Plays the Hits of The Beach Boys! Or try playing all the instrumentals on Surfin' USA backwards!).

There's the singles "Do It Again" and "I Can Hear Music", otherwise it's leftovers from the days when the band were too stoned or busy fucking Manson Family chicks to write new songs, like the Smile-era "Cabinessence", or covers such as the Leadbelly-by-way-of-CCR "Cotton Fields", and the proto-reggae "Bluebirds Over the Mountain".

There's also a bunch of Dennis songs (including "All I Want to Do"), a Bruce Johnston tune called "The Nearest Faraway Place", and a song by brand-new dis-member Charlie Manson called "Never Learn Not to Love". Wow! One of the most legendarily sick minds of the 20th Century got one of his songs on a Beach Boys album, just before ordering his minions to cut a beautiful young actress's unborn child out of her and mutilating it! How lucky are we?

At least Manson never got any royalties for his contribution, because Dennis put his name in the credits instead - good on ya Dennis, for chalking one up for the non-homicidal psychopaths among us!

Anyway, 20/20 is just about impossible to pin down, but don't sweat it - it's actually pretty decent, and doesn't really feel all that disconnected despite itself. There's diversity here, especially since none of the band's albums since say, Summer Days (and Summer Nights), have been pretty samey, and things were getting a bit dire by Friends. But 20/20 has variety in spades, going from stupid surf/rockers to near-metal then on to soft/rock ballads.

Parts of the album are almost scarily decadent - flashy 70's Calfornia/rock that would later boil over with The Eagles - like the overblown ballad "Be With Me", that sounds damn near Neil Diamond-esque. and Dennis' big-band rocker "All I Want To Do" beginning all bitchy Stones-like, at least until the faintly recorded live fucking noises on the fade-out, which sound like a kinder, gentler Guns 'n' Roses.

God, pass the coke and tell a joke - because this is L.A. in the early-70's - let's all get blitzed and do a bunch of shit in poor taste, so let's rip off Sinatra's "My Way" with a gloppy Barry Manillow intro, via the even-more-gloppy Johnston ballad "The Nearest Faraway Place"! Is that in poor enough taste for ya?

And no one is more decadent than Charles Manson, so let's toss on one of his stupid-ass songs - "Never Learn Not to Love" sounds like the kind of melody late-90's U2 would write, but with less of a Jesus complex. I'm sure the Beach Boys added all kinds of stuff to that song, but it still sounds skeletal and wimpy.

Or how about including covers that someone else covered better just a year or two before! That's would be Jardine's awful "Cotton Fields", which sounds about as natural as a bull giving birth to chickens compared with John Fogerty's funky down-home version. Covers! ... they just scream out 'I have nothing else to say because I'm a sad dull individual in an ambiguously hip band which I have made almost no artistic contribution to! Let's all hop in my Excalibur and go down to Rodeo to shop for thick-ass gold chains, brown satin sheets, and musk perfume'.

I've mentioned pretty much everyone but Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and that's because their input to this album is barely there. The Smile out-takes at the end - the wordless vocal harmony workout "Our Prayer", which is Godly, and the multi-part "Cabinessence", which is fascinatingly complex - reveal that the band had begun mining the vaults for material with which to pad out albums, since 30 MINUTES IS JUST TOO GODDAMN LONG FOR FIVE SONGWRITERS TO FILL!

Yet somehow some people think The Beach Boys are vastly under-rated! ... the 'hits' are decent but unremarkable hook-delivery devices, written on autopilot. Mike Love, after dominating Friends with his creepy TM recruiting bullsnot, pretty much takes a break on 20/20 other than for "Do It Again", a sleepwalking, pod-person attempt at recapturing the old surf sound ... the melody is snappy, but played so slowly it sounds like they're sinking into sand. Not that I'm complainin' about the lack of Mike Love, I'm more than happy to hear Dennis' and Carl's songs over his.

In spite of it all, I don't feel ripped off by 20/20 - there's enough good material to more than balance the bad, and though it's a bumpy ride, I feel pretty good at the end. Anyway, how many times are you going to hear a band ballsie enough to include a Manson song AND fuck noises AND a song called "Our Prayer" all on the same album? It works more than it doesn't.

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Posted: Tuesday 25th Jun 2019 12:28 PM

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