For every proper concept album in the world, I'd wager that there are at least three non-concept albums that people just read too much into. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is a prime example of 'feels like a concept album but apparently isn't' - check out this excerpt from the album's Wikipedia entry:
"Despite the story-type title and science fiction themes of the album, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne has made it clear that the album is not intended to be a concept album."
However, this denial hasn't stopped fans from making up their own stories, spotting narratives and running themes that probably never even occurred to The Flaming Lips when they were making the album. I've read several theories about Yoshimi... in the past, and two in particular stand out:
Yoshimi is a young girl suffering from cancer, which is represented by the pink robots. The 'battle' stuff is a story that the girl (or perhaps her parents) have made up to explain and make light of the chemotherapy that she's about to undergo ("she's gotta be strong to fight them/so she's taken lots of vitamins"). In the end, the treatment doesn't work (from All We Have Is Now: "we're not gonna make it...you and me were never meant to be part of the future") and the closing instrumental, Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon, is representative of the little girl dying and ascending to heaven. I know, it's a depressing idea, but it really fleshes out the album - Do You Realize??, for example, is even more affecting when you imagine that it's being sung to this dying girl by her mother or father.
- Robots in Love
A slightly cheerier prospect, this one. The robots are just robots this time, but one of them -Unit 3000-21 - is a little different to the others. He is able to feel human emotions, as detailed in One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21 ("one more robot learns to be/something more than a machine/when it tries the way it does/makes it seem like it can love"), and he ends up falling in love with Yoshimi, his enemy. In The Morning of Magicians is sung from his point of view, and it's essentially a heel face turn set to music; Unit 3000-21 is questioning his motives, struggling with the difference between love and hate, good and evil. I like the implications of this theory where Do You Realize?? is concerned - lines like "do you realize/that happiness makes you cry?" sound like they could well be posed by a robot who doesn't quite get how emotions work yet.
I think it's human nature to look for a story in everything, and that goes double for albums, which are often a lot more interesting when there's a thread tying everything together. Sometimes, it doesn't even matter if that thread is made up - hacking together a story of your own is often more enjoyable than simply accepting that those eleven songs don't really have anything to do with each other.
For more concept album guesses, check out this blog post that I did a while back.
Disclaimer #1: No, I don't remember where I read either of those theories.
Disclaimer #2: Yes, I realise that neither theory provides an adequate explanation for the orgasmic screams in Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2.