The Flaming Lips usually tend to use their B-sides and between-album releases to stretch musically, and the Fight Test EP -- which gathers the B-sides from the two-part U.K. single for Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, plus some new live and previously unreleased material -- is no exception. While it's not as overtly innovative as EPs like Providing Needles for Your Balloons, Fight Test's covers, remixes, and new songs offer more than might be expected, considering how soon it arrives after the release of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and how the Lips have been touring almost constantly since then. Their cover choices on the EP are particularly interesting, offering something of a critique on their place in pop music's canon. Wayne Coyne is famously omnivorous in his musical tastes, once proclaiming in an NME interview that he was a fan of both Smog and Madonna; this mix of populism and experimentalism informs all of his band's music, but the stunning reworking the Lips give Kylie Minogue's electro-pop gem "Can't Get You out of My Head" proves afresh that the group not only loves mainstream pop, but also loves to twist it to fit their own gloriously askew purposes. Opening with the kind of sweeping strings, guitars, and timpani that one usually associates with spaghetti westerns instead of dancefloors, the song is transformed into an obsessive ballad via Coyne's ghostly vocals and a bleak tempo. It's a stark contrast to the robotic sexiness of Minogue's version, but it isn't done ironically -- the Lips' version of the song wouldn't work as well as it does if the band didn't respect the song as it was originally recorded. While they bring a theatrical grandeur to Kylie, their mostly faithful version of Radiohead's "Knives Out" offers a little light at the end of that song's paranoid tunnel vision. Likewise, their cover of tourmate and pal Beck's "Golden Age" is as strummy, sparkling, and gracefully resigned as the Sea Change original, though the live setting and Coyne's bleat of a voice pushes the Lips' version even further into Neil Young territory. The EP stumbles slightly with the nine-minute Scott Hardkiss remix of "Do You Realize??," which is pleasant enough but strips away much of the original's poignancy and bloats the EP's length to over half an hour; one suspects the Lips could've easily crafted a more interesting dance version of the song themselves. As for the rest of Fight Test, the title track remains great -- and probably the most cheerful, anthemic song about losing someone close that you'll ever hear. "The Strange Design of Conscience," the only new studio track here, is quieter and more down to earth than Yoshimi, but is just as hypnotic and shares some of that album's themes of remaining strong and sympathetic in the face of hard times. And finally, the cute, country-tinged "Thank You Jack White (For the Fiber-Optic Jesus You Gave Me)" doesn't quite live up to its mind-boggling title, but does feature some fun guitar work and also reaffirms that the silly sense of humor that brought the Flaming Lips into the spotlight in the first place with songs like "She Don't Use Jelly" might be a little more refined, but is still very much a part of their sound. While this isn't as complete a portrait of the band's music as Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots -- and, of course, it's not meant to be -- the Fight Test EP does offer a rawer, more spontaneous version of their sound that makes for a nice balance with their more polished work.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares