God bless the Flaming Lips. After 1999's The Soft Bulletin, it was reasonable to believe that whatever rock's philosopher kings concocted as a follow-up would be a letdown. You may check those diminished expectations at the door to your Discman, however: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is easily the equal of its predecessor, a great work of art that marks a natural evolution of The Soft Bulletin and also sounds utterly different from it.
Post-OK Computer Radiohead is an obvious counterpoint. But where Radiohead determined to cut off its symphonic rock at the knees -- the fitting choice, given Thom Yorke's dystopia -- the Lips are by nature world-embracing, and the band has expanded its sonic palette to include the ambient textures and splintered rhythms that characterized Kid A's revolt against Radiohead past. First track "Fight Test" announces the Lips' new beat: A lazy, hip-hop chug-a-lug undergirds acoustic folk-pop with symphonic aspirations. "One More Robot . . ." kicks off soulful and loungey -- sexy even -- and moves into aggressive beat-splicing techno, with Wayne Coyne singing one of his wonderful melodic parables over the top ("One more robot learns to feel . . .") before it all whispers out on a lingering, instrumental kiss. Much of the rest of Yoshimi ardently resists critique, if only because analysis is hard when you're weeping for the joy, beauty, and truth Coyne & Co. have tapped into, vividly, yet again. God bless them.