When word got out that Flaming Lips announced a new album called With a Little Help From My Fwends which is a full-length tribute album to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I was immediately intrigued and curious. Although my curiosity quickly turned into apprehension because of the announcement that their rendition of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds featured Miley Cyrus.. Most people, like myself, were left thinking “what the fuck” but upon hearing their version last spring and now hearing the full album, I find myself falling down the rabbit hole into a surreal tapestry of psychedelic sounds.
There are at least 26 other artists spread over the album’s 13 tracks which runs just 12 minutes longer than the original and it has to be said, this isn’t the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper through a Flaming Lips filter… It’s an album the Lips have made entirely their own, which opens up after multiple listens. You hear things you missed the first time you listen like layers of frequencies and intricate webs of sound and one can’t forget those elements of oddities which we expect nothing less of Wayne Coyne and his bandmates.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” feat. My Morning Jacket, Fever the Ghost, & J Mascis:
It’s an almost deconstruction yet homage to the original. There’s an assortment of sounds and electric instruments that start this tune but then that bass drops in along with helium-like vocals that deliver the familiar melody while the assortment of instruments play, at one point it almost seems like they are competing with the other. Plenty of psychedelia ensues giving this song a trippy but nostalgic feel to the song.
“With a Little Help From My Friends” feat. Black Pus & The Autumn Defense:
Pulsating with the beating of the intro drumming, this is one of the few tracks that is actually sung by Wayne Coyne. I love that Wayne has a sense of humor singing “What would you do if I sang out of tune?” with his vocals clearly auto-tuned. The song seems jumbled yet melodic peppered breathless shouting at times, there’s nothing structured about this song and that’s what makes it so great.
“Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” feat. Miley Cyrus, Moby:
This version sounds a bit more true to the original. Miley’s soft dulcet voice is whimsical, which perfectly fits the song about a strange LSD trip and a girl “a girl with kaleidoscope eyes.” The chorus crashes in like a crashing wave and then the vocals soar.. Making it start to sound more like a piece of music you’ll want to revisit to see if you might have heard something you missed the first time.
“Getting Better” feat. Dr. Dog & Chuck Inglish:
Dr. Dog’s psych-rock is a perfect fit with Chuck Inglish, who speak-sings most of the verses, it gives it a dark almost eerie like sound along with falsetto chorus. The song is simultaneously dark and light due to the vocals and words but playful arrangement of beats and sounds make it a great homage.
“Fixing a Hole” feat. Electric Wurms:
The Lips’ Steven Drozd-fronted side project Electric Wurms took over the classic McCartney’s existential pondering. It sounds enchanting and airy, as if you’re floating.
“She’s Leaving Home” feat. Phantogram & Julianna Barwick:
Featuring a Casio MIDI beat instead of the string of the original production. Sarah Barthel of Phantogram sings one of my favorite Beatles tunes, the tale of a girl leaving her parents’ home to have fun. There’s a naivety and sweet tone to the song without making it sickly sweet.
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” Maynard James Keenan & Sunbears:
I would think that this song would probably be the most difficult to recreate but thankfully the Lips don’t try to match the original but instead they play up the wacky and dark undertones of the original.
Tool/Puscifer frontman Maynard James Keenan sing-speaks the lyrics that would be a perfect fit for American Horror Story: Freakshow.
“Within You Without You” Birdflower & Morgan Delt:
Another favorite of mine, electro singer Birdflower sings the George Harrison Eastern-influenced song which makes for a modern otherworldly version without appropriation.
“When I’m Sixty-Four” Def Rain & Pitchwafuzz:
This version somehow maintains the old-timey style of the original without sacrificing the electronic weirdness and manages to have a sinister feel to it. It’s a great mix of old and new.
“Lovely Rita”: Tegan & Sara, Stardeath, & White Dwarfs:
Tegan & Sara sing the whole thing, putting the emphasis on all the wrong syllables all the while keeping true to McCartney in having a saccharine factor. Assorted animal noises, acoustic strumming, and a synth beat carry the song’s extended instrumental ending.
“Good Morning Good Morning” Zorch, Grace Potter, & Treasure Mammal:
The original was a classic, wake-up call this modern electronic twist of the original sounds warped but in a clever inventive way.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” feat. Foxygen & MGMT:
Foxygen is a perfect fit for Fwends, their take on the reprise was executed with MGMT’s Ben Goldwasser is a lo-fi packed treat that maintains the melody of the original but with a groovy jam session that is befitting of the funky psych-rock classic, complete with bongos throughout the end.
“A Day In the Life” Miley Cyrus & New Fumes:
A grand song to tackle, Wayne Coyne handles most of the verses while a piano plays a fairly faithful approximation of the original. Miley singing, sounding sheepishly sleepy with an r&b like beat that sounds almost as if it was a factory beat on a Casio keyboard which keeps up with her vocals.
The song comes to a dramatic and almost apocalyptic end that you’re expecting to hear but instead static simply cuts out.. Like if someone pulled the plug on the whole album. It definitely did the job if it made me hit replay instantaneously.
Flaming Lips’ With a Little Help From My Fwends, are not trying to reinvent the album but merely modernizing it with their interpretation of it which I had to listen to over and over. I give it a 7/10.
Fwends drops Oct. 27 and proceeds from the album go to a charity that helps needy pet owners get veterinary care.