REVIEW: The Flaming Lips: Fight Test EP
The Flaming Lips: Fight Test EP [Warner, 2003]
Three words? What's Warner thinking?
How The Flaming Lips have remained on a major label all this time without getting dropped is beyond me. In fact, their being signed in the first place is a beyond my comprehension - how major labels work has never made much sense. Since day one, the group's ambition, experimentation and lo-fi theatrics have earned them a cult following, but hardly any mainstream attention (apart from 1994's "She Don't Use Jelly"). The brilliant The Soft Bulletin (1999) earned the Flaming Lips massive critical acclaim - and a broader audience - with a poppier, majestic sound. Widely considered their best album to date, large expectations were in place for their 2002 follow-up, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. While Yoshimi retained the orchestral sweep and catchy hooks of The Soft Bulletin, its lack of consistency led to an inevitable (albeit slight) letdown.
After two nicely packaged European singles, Fight Test marks the first domestic single for Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, and clearly I still don't understand how major labels work. Inexplicably, almost none of the European b-sides appear on this release - and it includes only one of the group's two videos. Instead, Fight Test is largely comprised of covers, plus a remix and two brand new tracks.
Kicking things off is the album cut of "Fight Test," a beautiful song in its own right. Next come three cover songs. First, an eerie version of Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head." It's somewhat amusing to hear Wayne Coyne acheingly deliver the line "boy your love is all that I think about," but the Lips' version of the tune is little more than serviceable. Next is a cover of Beck's "The Golden Age," which is pretty but lacklustre. Radiohead's "Knives Out" follows, and it's genuinely fantastic. Jonny Greenwood's lovely guitar line is replaced with a driving piano that plays just a beat slower, guitar squall underneath. The heartbreaking vocals turn Thom Yorke's song about cannibalism into a Wayne Coyne's song about break-ups. It's one of the few covers that really matches the original.
The rest of the EP is not particularly noteworthy. An awful remix "Fight Test" extends the four-minute pop song into an unbearable nine-minute MuchMusic Dance Party ™. "The Strange Design Of Conscience" is adequate enough Flaming Lips fare, but it's missing the driven percussion of Steve Drozd and the sweeping arrangements that made the last two albums so memorable. The same affliction strikes "Thank You Jack White (For The Fiber-Optic Jesus That You Gave Me)," a largely acoustic number that fails to move past the novelty of mentioning the White Stripes front-man in the title.
On the multimedia side of things we are treated to the video for "Fight Test" (why wasn't the amazing video for "Do You Realize?" included!?) and an attractive, lengthy trailer for the upcoming Flaming Lips film Christmas On Mars, which will be released, depending on whether you believe the trailer or the website, in 2003 or 2004.
Fight Test is only really bleak when it's compared against the European singles released around the same time. These singles feature no less than seven original b-sides, including songs from the forthcoming film and songs composed for a cat-fishing documentary. To quote Miller's Crossing, why do we get "the high hat"? Unless you're a diehard Flaming Lips fan, skip this release, buy the import singles, and download the "Knives Out" cover. Failing that, attack Warner Music headquarters with love lasers and flower cannons, taking over their brains with the help of enormous furry animals and rainbow confetti. That's what the Lips would do.