The Flaming Lips :: With A Little Help From My Fwends

lips

 

What would you think, if I sang out of tune, Would you stand up and walk out on me?

Famous words sang in a famous song, sung by a famous drummer. No Ringo, we’d never walk out on you. Never. Not even if there’s a fire. But the same can no longer be said of the Flaming Lips and their extremely old and stale shenanigans. I think I’m honestly one of the remaining few that have held on up to this point. I championed The Terror, that Peace Sword S/T, and that 7 Skies H3 album they released last RSD(I honestly thing 7 Skies H3 is some of the best stuff they’ve done since Embryonic.) Man, I’ve taken every bitter pill they’ve sent my way and I’ve loved every weird trip they’ve taken me on. But this cover album of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band? Nah, I just can’t do it anymore. I’m through. There needs to be some sort of intervention for Mr. Coyne. Shut down his Instagram. Take away his gummy molding machine, and all of his plastic doo dads he covers himself in on stage. He needs to seriously get his head out of whatever fumes he’s been inhaling and breathe in some untainted oxygen. The jig is up, you fearless freak.

Let me first say that I’m not some Beatles extremist. When I first heard the Lips were covering Sgt Pepper I was thrilled. I was and still am a huge fan of their take on The Dark Side of the Moon. I felt that in their own way The Flaming Lips stayed true to that album without compromising any of their weirdness. If they were to do that with Sgt Pepper, then we were going to be in for a real treat. I mean, Sgt Pepper was a massive statement. A milestone, and an album that in many eyes can never be replicated or matched. The Lips created that for me in 1999 when they put out The Soft Bulletin. That album was pure, child-like honesty put to otherworldly and ethereal music. It encapsulated the wonder and fear of life and death, all brought together by Wayne Coyne’s wavering and breaking voice. I was 24 years old when that album came out and it affected me much like Sgt Pepper affected so many folks 32 years before. How could Wayne Coyne and company screw this up? I don’t know, but they did.

This album really comes off as a big, noisy mess. It’s as if Coyne and company weren’t even there. They let special guests(and there were quite a few) in the studio, locked them in, and proceeded to pump in nitrous oxide through the vents to see what would happen. It’s a real shame, too, as underneath it all there’s some great performances by The Autumn Defense, Dr. Dog, Phantogram, and My Morning Jacket. Those performances are covered in clumps of audio fuzz, grime, and over blown excess. Yes, I’m aware I’m talking about the Flaming Lips when I’m complaining about “excess”. Here’s the thing: the Lips have always excelled at excess. They do excess beautifully. But here the excess is excessive. A beautiful vocal performance by the Autumn Defense in “With A Little Help From My Friends” is completely stunted by pairing them with Black Pus. “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” is shat upon by a overzealous guitar solo by the wonderful J Mascis at the end. “Getting Better”, featuring Dr. Dog, seems like a completely incredible combination until you throw Chuck Inglish in there as well and it just kinda falls flat on it’s face. I would’ve loved to have heard Dr. Dog’s full access on this track, with the Lips noodling on the knobs and faders a bit. Instead we get this detached Chuck Inglish vocal over top Dr. Dog with some pretty great stereo drums. It’s so close to perfection. “A Day In The Life”, while not bad, seems to just fall a little flat. This should’ve been monstrous, explosive, and beautiful. Instead, we get the most restraint we’ve seen on this covers album where it should’ve been the biggest statement possible.

A lot of people have bitched and moaned about Miley Cyrus’ connection to the Lips and Coyne, and especially her inclusion on this album. Well I’m here to say she is not to blame for the issues here. She does fine, really. She is featured on “A Day In The Life”, as well as one of the album highlights, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. They go big for “Lucy” and it works beautifully. Electric Wurms’ cover of “Fixing A Hole” is also a nice surprise. They pretty much stick to script here, with some nice, dreamy effects. Sorta like Yes covering the Beatles and it works. “She’s Leaving Home” is quite melancholy with Phantogram, Julianna Barwick, and Spaceface. It has an 80s electro vibe with all of the original track’s mournful feel. “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite!” with Maynard James Keenan is a perfect fit, actually. It has a “carnival of souls” aura and Keenan makes the track his own. “Within You Without You” with Birdflower and Morgan Delt keeps the mystical vibe of Harrison’s original, with some modern touches that aren’t too overbearing. Most of the rest? Kinda just there, really.

The strangest thing is that you wouldn’t even know this was a project curated by The Flaming Lips if it weren’t for the production. You “hear” them in like two tracks. Other than that, who knows? Even with something like Heady Fwends you got the feeling Wayne, Steve, and Michael were in the room with their “fwends”. Not so much here.

I look at classic albums like Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, Pet Sounds, and Odyssey and Oracle and I compare them to classical pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, and Debussy. They fall under the canon of timeless pieces of music and should be interpreted and endeared by future musicians and artists. We’ve done this for hundreds of years and it is a practice that should continue for hundreds of years to come. The Flaming Lips, I felt, were a band to do such a thing with The Beatles. They did right by Pink Floyd. They’ll do right by The Beatles, right? Even for Coyne, Drozd, and Ivins this is pretty far out there. They’ve taken themselves and a bunch of great artists and covered their “covers” of Lennon/McCartney compositions in so much noise it’s hard to discern anyone’s original intent.

This certainly isn’t a phoned-in tribute. It’s ambitious, ballsy, and grand for sure. But even Pollack knew when enough was enough. Wayne, sometimes less is more. I still love you, but I’m gonna have to walk away on this one.

5.6 out of 10

10 thoughts on “The Flaming Lips :: With A Little Help From My Fwends

  1. I was terribly hesitant to give this a listen yesterday when it came up on my Rdio feed. Now I don’t even know if I should waste my time. I haven’t enjoyed anything they’ve done since Embryonic. There’s only so much fuzz and noise you can take (oh, but I’m with you on the Dark Side album… brilliant)

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    1. If you can find the time, I’d say give it a whirl. At least then you can say you listened to it. “Getting Better” has improved some with further listening, but it’s still all so muddled. Too bad, as I think there could’ve been some real gems here.

      Best of luck.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is a big ask, isn’t it? Covering a ‘classic’ album in its entirety, trying to refresh-reimagine-reconnect with whatever made it great in the first place.
    Found ‘A Day in the Life’ OK – liked the middle section that at least showed a bit of invention. Didn’t like the omission of the final chord; there’s mischief then there’s dumb.
    I got into The Terror after a few listens, but cannot imagine making a similar investment in a re-tread.
    Thanks for the review.

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    1. Yeah, I mean “A Day In The Life” is the biggest statement on the album and it just sort of ends up flat in The Flaming Lips’ hands. They put more chutzpah in their cover of Madonna’s “Borderline”.

      It’s definitely rather anti-climactic. With The Terror at least it’s their own statement. Their own art they’re playing with. I was a fan of that album as well. This record will be an interesting novelty item. An oddity in 20 years.

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  3. Although I’ve found the output a bit difficult to remain engaged with over the last few years (though I very much dig The Terror and just recently discovered the delights of The Time Has Come to Shoot You Down…What a Sound) I have to admit that despite having the expected caution, I’m actually really looking forward to listening to this one. I guess I was hoping that it would be all the flavours of awesome that the Lips had dealt in on their most interesting stuff. Plus, I’d come to the conclusion it would be awesome by following this simple equation: I’m not a big fan of The Beatles, though I like Sgt Peppers a fair bit + I dig The Flaming Lips a helluva lot + their take on The Dark Side of the Moon was ace.

    Still, sounds like there’s enough here for me to really get into … no doubt I’ll find myself immersed in all the colours and psychedelic scuzz. Needing to come up for air every couple of minutes.

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    1. My biggest problem with this album was that it felt like the Lips weren’t even around half the time. With Dark Side it was obvious and quite wonderful. Here, besides manipulating and covering up some possibly great performances they rarely show up.

      Having said that I’d love to hear what you think of it once you dig in. I love the Lips, and I probably always will. This record has “grower” potentail; its just that the Dark Side record latched onto my brain immediately. This one is keeping its distance at the moment.

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