With A Little Help From My Fwends

The Flaming Lips

Warner Brothers, 2014


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


What a colossal waste.

Look, I'm fine with cover songs and albums, even if they are well-known standards. Music inspires us all. If someone wants to attempt a Led Zeppelin or Pearl Jam cover version, they have every right. Maybe it will be as good as the original. Maybe better. Probably worse.

Cover songs have merit, after all. Entire cover albums? Not as much, but they are at least interesting diversions, generally because the albums covered tend to be progressive works of art that are fascinating in and of themselves. Think of Camper Van Beethoven reworking Fleetwood Mac's double album mess Tusk, or Les Claypool redoing Pink Floyd's Animals, or the Flaming Lips having their way with Dark Side of the Moon, and you see the picture.

This is actually the Lips' third cover album, with the proceeds going to a charity in Oklahoma. If any modern space rock band has the capability to redo a classic album, it's these guys. Certainly, any Beatles song continues to be ripe for covers, so the marriage of their (the) ultimate psychedelic rock album and this band should automatically be a winner.

Except it's not. From the stupid title to the random sound effects to the jerky playing to the soundalike nature of each song, this is nowhere near entertaining, let alone any kind of tribute to the original. And this has nothing to do with my love for the original album; the Beatles' own LOVE project, the I Am Sam and Across the Universe soundtracks, and many others have shown that this material can be easily reworked, updated and given a new spin that remains honest to the original while moving it into a new decade. With songs this good, it's hard to screw them up.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But the Lips do, simply because they try so hard to be weird. Maybe the point is to create an acid trip soundtrack, or maybe the hope is to recreate that weird, cool vibe everyone gets when they hear Sgt. Pepper's for the first time in its entirety. It was one of those few albums that was a turning point for me; I remember standing in the basement of my house at age 10, mesmerized, listening to "A Day in the Life" on my father's turntable, staring off into space and letting the song transport me. I imagine that's how a lot of people felt in 1967 when they first heard it; not for nothing does it continue to be rated as the band's best song, or close to it.

So yes, there is history with this album. It's been analyzed to death. It's been fawned over repeatedly in every music magazine and by most critics (except Daily Vault founder Chris Thelen). It's a fantastic album, and you have to work really hard to mess up a cover song from it. And the Flaming Lips do just that, turning the title track into an acid carnival freakout with no rhythm or point, turning "With A Little Help From My Friends" into an unlistenable AutoTune spaceout and robbing "She's Leaving Home" of any emotional impact.

The focus is on swirling colors and sounds, like any psychedelic rock album and recent Lips music, and not on melody except in a few places. There are times that things click, such as part of the Floydian jam that closes "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)," the ghostly “Fixing A Hole” that Lennon probably would have approved of, and Miley Cyrus' vocals on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "A Day in the Life." That may sound odd, but Miley's out-there borderline space-cadet persona, at least circa 2014, and her natural voice lends itself quite nicely to this kind of music. I wouldn't call it a revelation, but it's proof that she is capable of more than tween pop and the trying-too-hard Bangerz.

Cyrus is one of the "fwends" here, along with people like Moby, Tegan & Sara, and My Morning Jacket and a lot of others you’ve never heard of. Because all the songs are rewritten in the same fractured freakout echo-chamber style, this gives the album some needed diversity but clearly not enough. You listen to this and wonder why the original is so revered.

In a way, this almost feels like a bad joke. A band that should have been able to successfully tweak a classic album in their style instead deliberately distorts, twists and still homogenizes the songs. I could see the Lips getting high and doing this in their free time, but to rope in a dozen guest stars, give this a stupid title and pass it off as entertainment or any sort of musical homage to the Beatles is inexcusable, even if the spirit is the same. Beatles diehards will of course want to pass and everyone else should do the same, unless they like this sort of freakout avant-garde indie-rock. Save your time.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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