Listen to this track by left-of-center art pop constructionists The Flaming Lips. It’s the second-to-last song on their epic 2002 masterpiece Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, and what a stunning concoction of electronica, progressive rock, and pop it is, too. This song, as light and airy as it is, hides depths that belie its gentle and welcoming surface. This is a song about the fragile thread of life, a theme explored on the album as a whole.
The group had its beginning in the early ’80s, although it took until the ’90s for them to make a wider commercial impact. By the time they recorded Yoshimi …, they’d put out at least one hit single (“She Don’t Use Jelly”), and one universally acclaimed album (The Soft Bulletin) behind them. Yet it was here that the band, under the leadership of Wayne Coyne, made their greatest impact on the mainstream. And this is my favourite song off of the record, which stands as one of the most fully realized and cohesive records of the decade.
Rife with science fiction imagery and allusions of mortality, wrapped in an almost orchestrally lush musical package, The ‘Lips don’t skimp on showmanship even on record. Yet, the subject matter here is really down to the bare bones, contrasted quite nicely with the sonic architecture you’re hearing on this song. The sentiment is simple too, reflected in the title; that the present and all of the value we find in it, is all we’ve got.
But, another thing this song reveals, just through the sheer sound of it, is that having nothing but the present isn’t a prison sentence. In many ways, I think the underlying idea here is that recognizing this is a liberating idea, rather than a limiting one. This is particularly poignant in a world of continual struggles, which are also alluded to in this song, and in other songs on the record.
The imagery and language of fighting and battles may have something to do with our tendency to fight against our own senses of mortality. With this song, we’re asked to face it, gently, so that our lives in the present are made that much more precious, even if it’s still worth it to fight off the forces that oppose our health and happiness.
And as strange as this band’s oeuvre may be, one thing about them is that they are very life affirming in a childlike sort of way, children being the paragon of what it means to live and be content in the present. This childlike glee is particularly evident in concert, with costumes, hand puppets, gongs, giant hamster balls, and lots of confetti. When all you have is now, you might as well spend your now having a party.
Recently, Wayne Coyne was interviewed by Mashable about the band’s upcoming releases, to be distributed in several forms including (oddly, natch) USBs delivered inside of Gummi Skulls. And why not?
For more information, check out The Flaming Lips official site.