Release Date: Oct 28, 2014
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Experimental Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
It’s astonishing that so many performers and punters still miss the whole point of The Beatles. They fearlessly forged ahead and readily embraced change, so the best tribute you can pay them is to tear up the blueprints. Fortunately, The Flaming Lips are trusted interpreters when reworking sacred texts, and With A Little Help From My Fwends finds them strip-mining the Sgt Pepper’s album in its entirety, abetted by handpicked o-conspirators including MGMT, Moby, J Mascis and Miley Cyrus.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Not content with having one of the best albums of the 21st Century in Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, The Flaming Lips have taken on one of the best from the previous century (or ever) in their latest release A Little Help From My Fwends; a track-for track cover of The Beatles' iconic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Anyone lamenting The Flaming Lips' later work as too experimental and inaccessible might find With a Little Help From My Fwends a refreshing detour. Not because it breaks from that trend—it doesn't—but because the safety of a classic Beatles record allows them to stretch their experimental legs while still producing a grounded experience. .
With their latest stab at covering in its entirety a highly-regarded, classic album, the Flaming Lips seem to take a sort of perverse pleasure in breaking down the boundaries currently in place across a myriad genres within the popular music landscape, bringing together a number of dissimilar artists (chiefly among them and most immediately recognizable amidst the jumbled sonic chaos that has the feeling of a unified ensemble rather than individual guest stars, Disney Channel byproduct and headline grabber Miley Cyrus) and pitting them against some of the best known source material in 20th century popular music. This deconstruction of commercially sanctioned boundaries helps to remind listeners and performers alike that we’ve all sprung from the same basic wellspring and that there is no reason for the continued stylistic ghettoization that is contemporary popular music, setting as its backdrop one of the most influential albums of all time, one that arguably ushered in the modern era of popular music by taking a myriad styles and creating a cohesive, carnivalesque whole that continues to resonate to this day. And it’s within this concept of the carnivalesque the Lips seem to function most freely, if not at their best, turning a funhouse mirror on nearly everything in sight, bending and stretching, distorting and deconstructing to create something that, like the original, serves as a template for where music can potentially go when approached with a sort of reckless abandon.
The thing about pitching an album as “It’s ‘Sgt Pepper…’ but on acid” is that ‘Sgt Pepper…’ is already very much “on acid”, emerging as it did from The Beatles’ most psychedelic period. Still, if there’s one band in the world willing to go the extra tab, it’s The Flaming Lips. They are, after all, the people whose past releases include a USB stick buried inside a sweet gummy skull, and ‘Zaireeka’ – a record that could only be properly listened to by rigging up four stereo systems in the same room.
Though it may seem like a quaint, family-friendly entry into their iconic discography, the Beatles made major waves with the release of their eighth album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, in 1967. With wildly intricate and far-out production that wowed listeners, and possible references to drugs and counterculture to freak out the establishment, the proto-concept album would become a major influence on psychedelic music for decades to come.
Wayne Coyne’s inimitable brand of unhinged barminess probably makes him the perfect man to cover the Fab Four’s best loved album. The Flaming Lips remain indie music’s premier nutters, who for a steady two decades have been throwing glitter, zorbs, and polyphonic headaches at audiences from arenas in London to shamanic jungle retreats. Their penchant for pomp is undiluted on what is most certainly the most bombastic of any of The Beatles cover albums.
The Flaming LipsWith a Little Help from My Fwends(Warner Brothers)Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars For those who have forgotten that indescribable vibe of shock and awe after their initial spin of the Beatles’ 1967 masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, this tribute of it, from the always intriguing Flaming Lips, attempts to replicate that feeling. As the “fwends” in the title implies, Wayne Coyne and whoever remains in his freaky outfit invites guests to help flesh out his tripped/weirded out, psychedelic vision of the dozen songs.
Back in the mid-1980s, the easiest way for underground bands to draw ideological battlelines separating themselves from their 1970s arena-rock antecedents was to appropriate their most hallowed songs for devious ends. And so we got J. Mascis moaning his way through Peter Frampton’s “Show Me the Way”, the Minutemen chopping Van Halen songs in half, Pussy Galore licking the burnt spoons littered throughout the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, Sonic Youth swiping the title of CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising” for their Reagan-era state-of-the-union address, and the Butthole Surfers grinding Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” into skunk weed.
Last May, the BBC announced the new Flaming Lips album, With a Little Help From My Fwends, with the slightly misleading headline, “Flaming Lips to re-record Sgt. Pepper with Miley Cyrus.” There was a collective gasp sprinkled with a variety of “what the fuck,” but people took the bait and clicked that link. In all honesty, should we really be surprised that Lips frontman Wayne Coyne is working with Miss Bangerz? He did record with Kesha.
Rockers from Jimi Hendrix to Sonic Youth have futzed about with songs from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but none have approached the acid burnout of the Flaming Lips and their many "fwends" on this track-by-track remake. Wayne Coyne and Co. enlist enough famous faces to re-create the original LP sleeve – Miley Cyrus, My Morning Jacket, J.
The space between uplifting pop and out-and-out weirdness is a fertile area successfully mined by the Beatles, who showed how transcendent pop could be: match indelible tunes with the strangest sounds and lyrics and a splendid time is guaranteed for all. In search of similar highs, the Flaming Lips – with “fwends” (ugh) including Moby, My Morning Jacket and J Mascis – here attempt to reconnect us to the more out-there side of the Beatles by covering the whole of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the mothership of 60s psychedelia. Their approach is to drench the Beatles’ basic song structures in all manner of disorienting 21st-century effects.
Ever since Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd stopped writing actual songs and started dealing in psychedelic freakouts that literally last for up to 24 hours, lazy collaborative jams with every indie-rock and pop artist in the phonebook, and miserable, colorless dirges (see last year's The Terror), the Flaming Lips' brand has experienced a precipitous decline. It's not like they were above a misstep here or there in the past (remember Christmas on Mars?), but it's almost impossible to fathom the current incarnation of the Lips producing anything that approaches the emotional compositional heft of “Five Stop Mother Superior Rain,” “Turn It On,” or “Do You Realize??” The Lips' latest stunt is the inanely titled With a Little Help from My Fwends, a full album cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which features over two-dozen genre-spanning guest stars performing songs produced by the band.