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29th October 2014

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

Wayne Coyne and co. take on a musical leviathan with mixed results

October 28th

Warner Bros. Records


The Flaming Lips are one of those bands which you either love or hate. Because of this, in taking on a Beatles album they were always going to polarise opinion; and this isn’t just any Beatles album. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a leviathan, a giant of its kind. It was described by one critic as “a decisive moment in the history of western civilisation.” To some, letting Wayne Coyne loose on this is like letting Tracy Emin redecorate the Sistine chapel.

The inclusion of Miley Cyrus on ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ surprised many, but the rendition is an interesting, sprawling take on the original and Cyrus delivers the iconic chorus with gusto and subtlety in equal measure. It sounds a little like The Beatles being abducted by aliens, in the best possible way. However one can’t help but think that it’s the quality of the song writing which makes it acceptable. Unfortunately, this is the case with a lot of these covers. For example, the high point of the Lips’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ is by far that bombastic chorus, deep under the influence of J Mascis, but (shoot me now, Wayne) that’s the bit that’s most similar to the original. Is it my inner Beatles snob emerging from beneath a layer of enforced open mindedness, or is it just that the best bit of this covers album is the 40 seconds which is closest to the Beatles?

‘Getting Better’ is another highlight, but that too has been given room to breathe between the characteristic Flaming Lips madness, with which other tracks are far too infected to be listenable. Take ‘Within You Without You’, where there is basically more feedback than musical notes. It’s all a bit too much; for a while I was convinced that my speakers were breaking, before I realised it was meant to sound this way.

Despite the sonic capabilities of the Flaming Lips paired with the Beatles’ song writing occasionally working brilliantly, the pattern seems to be this: the less Wayne Coyne has messed with it, the better it sounds. Unfortunately, some tracks have been messed with beyond repair. Never fear though, the original Sgt. Pepper’s will still be there when you’ve finished listening to Miley Cyrus (“of all people!” shout the purists) take on Lennon.

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