Flaming Lips revamps Sgt. Pepper

No one can deny that the Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is legendary.  It was the Beatles’ first album that wasn’t cute, their first “concept” album.  It was the beginning of a creative peak that would lead the Beatles to produce five iconic albums, including Abbey Road and the White Album.

So I guess you could say that the Flaming Lips new cover album, With a Little Help from My Fwends, was a big undertaking.

This is not the first time the Flaming Lips have covered an entire album; they also covered Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, another iconic album.  The only problem with album covers is that they tend to be the ways that artists try to gain popularity.  Just look at YouTube—every band/group  trying to make it big starts with a cover.

But the Flaming Lips just genuinely enjoy replicating and twisting music that they love.

The band took the album and gave it a freaky twist while managing to stay true to the initial sound.  It doesn’t try to upstage or even compare to The Beatles; it’s more of a separate entity.  It also helps that the album is for a good cause—all profits will go to the Bella Foundation, an organization in Oklahoma that helps the elderly with the costs of their pets’ medical care.

As a whole, the record was a tremendous undertaking; the lips worked with 26 other musicians/bands—or should I say fwends?  The album includes everyone from super poppish artists (Miley Cyrus, Tegan and Sara) to indie bands (Phantogram, Foxygen) to old partners (White Dwarfs).  But it turns out that the Lips are only on a handful of tracks and weren’t even there to supervise some of the recordings, which would explain why some of the tracks come off a little sloppy and why some songs are totally different from the originals while others are fairly similar.

The record does contain a lot of distortion…like, A LOT of distortion, which is normal for the Lips, but when listening to a Beatles cover album, you almost have to fight the temptation to just turn on the original.  Especially once you hit the seventh track, “Within Without You.”  The track is already pretty psychedelic, so to trying to make an even more hallucinogenic track is a bit overbearing.

Sometimes the excess trippiness works in the song’s favor.  For instance, in the song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” Miley’s breathy voice combines with heavy techno keyboarding that crescendos into a mind-blowing chorus.  And in the song “Lovely Rita,” the auto-tune of Tegan and Sara’s voices meshes really well with the rest of the layers.  “She’s Leaving Home” by Phantogram, Spaceface and Julianna Branwick  is slightly faster than the original, and the vocals’ echo really makes for an experience that is almost visual.

The new record is worth a listen.  The unique twist on a popular album is really fun, and the fact the Lips love the Beatles only makes it better.  But my copy might just end up on a shelf gathering dust while Abbey Road plays in the background.

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