Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Songs #185 & 186 - It's TWOsday!

Song #185 of 9999                                                  Song #186 of 9999

Title: Do You Realize                                               Title: Ashes of American Flags
Artist: Flaming Lips                                                  Artist: Wilco
Year: 2002                                                               Year: 2002
Album: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots                 Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Concept albums went out with the 1970s and AOR radio stations with actual people playing records, right? Apparently not. In 2002, two of the best albums of the year sported lofty themes for eager fans to analyze and deconstruct. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots deals with issues common to those old psychedelic 70s records: love, mortality, pacifism, etc. On Yoshimi, Flaming Lips come off as modern-day hippies with an animé (and animal) fetish. Although singer Wayne Coyne claims the album is not a concept album, it does indeed tell the story of protagonist Yoshimi and her battle with the titular pink robots across several tracks.

By contrast, Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is less literal in its concept and allows for all kinds of interpretations, most notably that the record is a reaction to events of September 11, 2001. (The record was actually recorded before the attacks.) As Jeff Tweedy veered more and more into noise pop, so did Wilco's records and, in this case, the noise and unique instruments (such as crotales, cimbalom, vibraphone and electric guitar--okay that last one was a joke) tend to connect songs that may or may not be related by subject matter. It's hard to tell with Tweedy's lyrics, which are fairly literal on this record, but still leave plenty of holes for the listener to plug.

By almost any measuring stick, the Wilco album is the better of the two. Almost every song is a masterpiece and each is capable of standing on its own, away from any overarching themes of the LP. But Yoshimi has its charms, especially if you are looking for an album-length experience. Individually, the songs aren't as strong ("Do You Realize" is probably the most self-sufficient) but the sum is definitely greater than its parts.

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