Words by Russell Carstens

The Flaming Lips have recorded a tribute to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, titled With a Little Help From My Fwends. Their “fwends” include J. Mascis, Moby, Dr. Dog, MGMT, and others. The premise sounds more promising than the final result, although the effort isn’t without its merits.

The title track opens with a modern-psych take on the brief intro of the original—but this time, it almost sounding like a Grimes production. The famous hook is delivered with sufficient energy, but the closing solo is broken and loudly disturbing to the overall mix. I suspect this may have been part of the intent, but the effect is unpleasantly jarring rather than stimulating. The vocals on “With a Little Help From My Friends” alternate between line-by-line pleasantries and a helpless-sounding plead from different vocalists. Delay-infused screams interrupt throughout. The mood changes so often that it’s nearly impossible to settle into a moment and truly be there.

As for the good stuff, the original good-time vibe of “Getting Better” is kept intact, but the mix is again frustratingly disturbed with what sounds like laser beams being fired in the studio as if the Lips were victims of a break-in while the tape was rolling and some kind of Jedi battle ensued. On “Fixing a Hole,” underwater, almost-whispered vocals and subdued acoustic guitar are the main feature in the most pleasant cover thus far. However, the vocal effects are so intense that only the melodies are left recognizable.

Things finally start getting awesome on “She’s Leaving Home.” Trip-hop drum machines lay the foundation for the strings of the original to be mimicked by stuttering synth dots bouncing in all directions like a Jackson Pollock painting. The dramatic vibe is kept intact in a cover that Sir Paul would likely approve of.

This tribute LP is a tough one. Many portions simply sound weird for the sake of it. Several tunes are a mixture of overblown, distorted synths and distant vocals. The mark was overshot, and instead of being interesting, it’s simply irritating, crowded and overstuffed— like trying to fit a double-album onto a 20-minute EP.

It is original—that’s for sure. But enjoyable? The Beatles may have been aiming to experiment on Sgt. Pepper’s, but much of the Lips’ take on the album is too far out for its own good.

The Flaming Lips
‘With A Little Help From My Fwends’
Warner Brothers Records
© October 28th, 2014



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