Lavishly psychedelic American rockers The Flaming Lips have released a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band tribute album – with a little help from their friends! Entitled With A Little Help From My Fwends, the experimental Beatles cover album marks the band’s fourteenth studio release. Reworking the classic album track-by-track with collaborations from Miley Cyrus, Phantogram and Tegan and Sara is definitely an ambitious way to invigorate the 47-year-old track-list, and it pays off… mostly.
The cover art looks more Yellow Submarine than Sgt. Pepper’s, but the colourful, hallucinogenic cartoons complement the similarly trippy music. At times, the album sounds like someone’s got hold of the original Beatles record and scratched the shit out of it on the turntable, but then, on some occasions, the weirder the better. Fuzzy, distorted guitars, wailing vocals and layered soundscapes are abundant, and although each track is unique, they can be alienating if you’re new to the band’s usual sound assaults.
Bizarrely, scruffy frontman Wayne Coyne’s already echoey, 60s-style voice is barely put to use on this record. The opening childlike vocals – a combination of My Morning Jacket and Fever The Ghost – are reminiscent of an early, helium-induced Robert Plant, before they deepen to satanic proportions in the chorus. It’s tongue-in-cheek irony that on ‘A Little Help From My Friends’ they sing “And I’ll try not to sing out of key”, out of key!
Lips enthusiast Miley Cyrus sings on ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, with her vocal performance surprisingly fitting the rest of the album. Her dreamlike, dead-pan delivery paired against gentle strings pays a good homage to the original arrangement. The chorus, on the other hand, erupts into a barrage of smothering static-laden strings and beats. Between every verse and chorus is an eerie, choral-like organ interlude. As each new verse progresses, the distortion on Cyrus’ vocals swell along with the boom box-like backing and no matter how many times you listen to this breakdown, it’s still uncomfortable on the ears.
‘She’s Leaving Home’ is actually quite a beautiful, dreamy composition. Sarah Barthel from Phantogram’s ethereal vocals complement the nostalgic tinge of the Casio MIDI-backed lyrics. The slo-mo robotic auto-tune on ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ is so mesmerising, you can almost forgive the fact the breezy essence of the original melody has been hijacked.
‘Lovely Rita’ is given a jarring synth-pop makeover by Canadian duo Tegan and Sara, including barking dog effects a la ‘Hey Bulldog’. Miss Bangerz reappears in the finale ‘A Day In The Life’, with a simplistic piano score a welcomed antidote to some of the more theatrically cluttered previous tracks.
With A Little Help From My Fwends has too many chaotic musical shifts to be one coherent listen. Fuzzy effects cloud and disorientate the already loosened song structures, and just as you settle into a track, it takes a bombastic new direction that threatens to pull you out of it again. Almost every number starts and ends abruptly, so you need to listen to them as stand-alone songs to appreciate the risky originality. Unexpectedly, Miley Cyrus provides the highlight of the release, with a good effort on both of her covers. Lips fans will rejoice in the album’s creativity and distinctive psychedelia, but die-hard Beatles fans should be warned that this interpretation is an acquired taste.
With A Little Help From My Fwends is out now through Warner Bros. Records.
*It’s good to mention too, that a portion of the proceeds from the sales of With A Little Help From My Fwends will be donated to The Bella Foundation, which is a non-profit organisation based in Oklahoma City that assists disadvantaged pet owners with the cost of veterinary care.