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Flaming Lips’ Tribute to the Beatles Lacking Flavor

By David Goe

Note: Watch all six parts of the Flaming Lips talking about this album here. 


Have you ever eaten a sloppy fast food hamburger after tasting a deliciously constructed burger from, say, Bin 707? Ever choked down a chemically modified, tasteless beef patty that vaguely resembles the fresh and flavorful bite your body is actually craving? Stuffed your gullet with something only resembling in shape the mouth-watering perfection ingrained in your memory?

That fast food burger is akin to the latest cover album by psychedelic heroes the Flaming Lips.

“With A Little Help From My Fwends” is a track-for-track tribute to the Beatles masterpiece and unanimously beloved 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Unfortunately, while “Fwends” does enough to entice a bite, it comes nowhere close to complete satisfaction like the delightful original.

“Fwends” is an ambitious effort, much like the original, and that’s where the similarities end.

Featuring nearly 30 guest performers like Tegan & Sera, My Morning Jacket, J. Mascis, and Dr. Dog, the album’s scale is massive. With so many guest performers jammed into only 13 tracks though, things get pretty hectic right out of the gate.

From its opening synths and wobbly pitched vocals on the iconic title track, it’s pretty clear your time would be better spent listening to the original album. Outside of a few well done covers (“She’s Leaving Home” featuring Phantogram, for example) and some nice use of modern technology to add new wandering depths to “Fixing A Hole” and “Within You Without You,” there’s not a lot to get excited about.

The fun and unpredictability the Beatles gave us on the original “Sgt. Pepper’s” is ruined by a messy composition at the hands of what sounds like schizophrenic drug addicts. (At least when the Beatles took drugs they made hit records.)

The Beatles songs you know and love are there somewhere, but their memorable melodies are buried so deep beneath annoying fuzz and laser rolls that the majority are almost unrecognizable. I suppose that’s the point, to try and create something unique and different than a note-for-note cover, but with source material so ubiquitous it’s nearly impossible to achieve.

Every added note on “Fwends” seems unnecessary, and it’s absolutely unbelievable that the album’s only saving grace is Miley Cyrus. Yes. That Miley Cyrus.

Her guest vocal on “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,” and particularly on Paul McCartney’s middle contribution to “A Day In the Life,” are far and away the album’s best moments.

The Flaming Lips have proven up to the task of remaking landmark albums before. Their take on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” was well done and much more interesting.

Maybe this time the original album is just too good to mess with, or maybe the Flaming Lips have finally run out of good ideas. It certainly doesn’t help that the band only truly appears on a handful of songs and left the remainder of the album to be completed without their direct supervision.

The Flaming Lips, while not a bad band in their own right, are just another in a long line of musicians who have tried to stand toe-to-toe with the Beatles and failed. Their version of “Sgt. Pepper’s” is nowhere near as corny as Peter Frampton and Barry Gibb’s version, but it’s amazing to think this tribute album isn’t even as trippy and weird as the 1967 original.

The genius of the original comes from the Beatles recording magic. They used the recording studio as another instrument through overdubbing, sampling, reverse playback, multi-tracking, and signal processing. Using all the tricks the Beatles and George Martin became famous for, they created something that sounded like nothing ever before.

If anything, “Fwends” proves that almost 50 years later, bands are still trying to catch up to the Beatles’ brilliance. And while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, sometimes it sits in your gut like a brick with regret.