I love The Flaming Lips. I really do. Folks may not know that about me… but they likely will, cause I tend to chat about how they are, quite literally, one of the finest bands on the planet. I don’t care who disagrees, cause I know I’m right. Sure, they’ve had some missteps along the way, but who hasn’t? Some of their bonkersness and Wayne Coyne’s, eh, eccentricities can be a bit too much for people, but when you sit and listen to the music they create, there’s really no avoiding that they’re one of the best and most important acts that have ever existed. It’s fact, man. No use fighting it.
Today I have gathered you here to talk about the misunderstood Coyne & Co. led reconstruction of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, With A Little Help From My Fwends. It’s not really an album by The Flaming Lips, but more a collaborative effort that features the likes of J Mascis, Maynard James Keenan, and My Morning Jacket, as well as Moby and Miley Cyrus. What starts off as a very interesting and sonically challenging album, soon runs out of steam.
The first 5 tracks are perfect. It starts with a big bad fuzz machine reconstruction of the title track. It’s abrasive. Distorted. My Morning Jacket and J Mascis coming together to create a racket. There’s tape effects and distortion (and more distortion) and that guitar. Yikes!
The first appearance from The Flaming Lips is in With A Little Help From My Friends and, well, it’s just wonderful. Complete with auto-tune, off key shouting, and a hushed backing. There’s a pulse throughout… some real Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde shenanigans going on here and, well, it’s a moment of genuine wonder. They pop up again with Miley Cyrus and Moby on Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. It’s dreamy and grand when the ‘chorus’ kicks in. It’s like a cosmic dream. The shuttle launching… Lucy admiring the diamonds like Dorothy admiring the colours and the Emerald Fields. It’s brilliant. And do you know what? Miley Cyrus’ vocal is beautiful.
It’s followed by a brilliant and fuzzily bouncy take of Getting Better, (featuring Dr. Dog, Chuck Inglish, and Morgan Delt). But it’s Drozd’s and Coyne’s Electric Würms that grab the senses with Fixing A Hole. Again, it’s dreamy… like I’m hallucinating. There’s a chap and he’s singing by a fire in a ruined old house. I can barely make him out, as I stand on the ground floor, but I can feel the warmth and the crackling of the flames… bending and echoing with his voice.
It goes off the boil for a bit. Both She’s Leaving Home (one of my favourites from the original album) and Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! quite underwhelming – the beauty of the former is replaced with a lot of boom bip bop, and despite the return of Coyne & Co. on the latter, the influence of Maynard James Keenan is perhaps too great (it sounds a helluva lot like Puscifier to my ears).
Side B doesn’t get off to a great start. Within You Without You retains much of the vibe of the original and, while it comes alive a little around the halfway point when the electronic shenanigans kick in, it’s unremarkable as a result (why not listen to the original?). Likewise, When I’m Sixty Four and Lovely Rita fall a bit flat. When I’m Sixty Four in particular left me thinking “I’d have loved to have heard this one in the hands of Coyne & Co”… and then I realised that it’s not a track they’re absent from. Which is a damn shame, cause I really would have loved to have heard what they’d have done with that one on their own.
The Zorch, Grace Potter, and Treasure Mammal take of Good Morning Good Morning is bombastic and there’s even a nice Beach Boys Roll Plymouth Rock vibe in there around 1:45. Like I say, it’s bombastic and glorious. It’s followed by the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise), which seems to go on a tad too long. There’s some faux electric Miles stuff going on and I guess it pays off around the 2:30 mark for, eh, 30 seconds or so… but then there’s another three minutes to get through… and getting through that today is tough.
But you know what? A Day In The Life is just what we’re looking for. A deviation from the original that also owes a whole lot to the original. That break… and again Miley Cyrus’ turn is spot on. Lazy… but not a case of ‘can’t be fucked’… she’s in that dream. It’s effortless. There’s a simplicity to the arrangement, too. Allowing the song to just be the song, y’know? It’s brilliant… and it proves that we needed more of the Lips. Amazing.
So, The Flaming Lips 2014 is pretty good with plenty of flavour, even if it is a bit overcooked. It’s a pass, for sure, but it could have been so much better had Wayne & Co. tackled this one without a little help from their fwends.
Much like the other releases in the Flaming Lips & Fwends series (you would call them a series, right?), the album was pressed in limited numbers and available only via indie stores. It’s a lovely translucent orange, housed within a glossy gatefold sleeve. No lyric sheet, but a fairly whacky and heavy card inner sleeve.