It’s a wonder why The Flaming Lips felt the need to cover the entirety of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” award-winning, culture-changing shockwave of an album… but they did.
Officially released on Oct. 28, “With a Little Help From My Fwends” is a little more than strange (in typical Lips fashion). Here’s a bit of background—it’s the 14th Flaming Lips album, all of its proceeds go towards veterinary care and it features the likes of Dr. Dog, Tegan and Sara and Moby (among other “fwends” of the psychedelic rock group). It had such a unique hype about it, but it’s ultimately a bit of a letdown.
It’s hard to begin describing how this album ultimately translates. Drawing inspiration from one of the first psychedelic rock albums of all time, it’s obvious that The Flaming Lips were going to take things to the next level. Rocketship noises, radio feedback and fuzzy vocals are to be expected.
However, so is musicality, and the bulk of the album arguably lacks this key component.
Starting off with a version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (which sounds like 10-year-old VHS tape audio), the melody mixes into a big pot of superfuzz, heavy hits and headache. Yes, it’s unique. Yes, it’s psychedelic. But the wrong kind of psychedelic.
Put simply, it’s the start of a really, really bad acid trip.
Chugging on through “With a Little Help From My Friends” with its uncomfortably chaotic repetitions of “do you need anybody?” yelled into the mic, the out-of-key elements blast onwards in The Flaming Lips’ bad-trip fashion. However, there is then some much-needed reprieve (after only two songs!) in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” featuring Miley Cyrus.
People can bash on Cyrus all they want, but she seems to be the only one who knows how to make things a little more consistent on “With a Little Help from my Fwends.” Almost inevitably, there are a ton of feedback and alienesque sounds on this track too, yet Cyrus’ voice finds a way to cool things down and make the turbulent theme more tangible than the sounds of mish-mashed YouTube videos.
And she manages to do this once again in “A Day in the Life,” which wraps up the album, thankfully, on a good note. But between these two songs, there are only a few other shining standouts that won’t induce migraines.
“She’s Leaving Home,” featuring Phantogram, has an electric-sounding drumset with sharp little cymbal hits, right above flowing, half-awake vocals. The calm, whooshing song is another thankful break amidst the in-your-face shouting on most other tracks.
Tegan and Sara make an appearance on “Lovely Rita,” with a little bit more of a poppy, upbeat, less-cringing sound to it. Fighting through The Flaming Lips’ blanket of weirdness, the pop duo has just the right amount of pep to break free. Are those burp noises? It’s okay; Tegan and Sara’s pretty vocals are enough to make this song enjoyable.
But the bad-trip album isn’t worth listening to completely. Instead, it’s more enjoyable to simply pick through the track list and listen to your favorite artists. Then, see their takes (coupled, of course, with The Flaming Lips) on an old favorite from The Beatles themselves.
All in all, The Flaming Lips’ message was to have a concept album worth listening to all the way through, and that is a difficult thing to do with “A Little Help from my Fwends” without getting a headache. As a collection of covers, this album is more impressive.
But a concept album? Leave it to The Beatles.