27 November 2014

The Flaming Lips & Friends - With A Little Help From My Frwends

This record has been the cause of an argument between some people I know, but first a brief history lesson.  The Flaming Lips is an American alternative rock band from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and they were formed in 1983.  Starting off as a post-punk band, they have slowly but surely moved further away from their earlier incarnation towards something quite different.  They have released albums in a real skull containing a memory stick, random ep and songs with a variety of artists and have both enthralled and bemused audiences around the world.  This is their fourteenth album which is a covers album of 'Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band' originally by the Beatles (on a brief side note, 'Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band' is an album that I have found to be over-hyped, but that is besides the point).  It has been done (as the title suggests) with a little help from the friends (stylised as Frwends), with all the profit from the album going towards The Bella Foundation which is an organisation in Oklahoma City that helps provide veterinary care to needy pet owners.  It has appearances from members of My Morning Jacket, Moby, J Mascis, White Dwarfs and..... Miley Cyrus.  This is the part which has got some people up in arms about it, I find this to be a bit silly in one light as it is in keeping with The Flaming Lips to go in a sideward’s direction and confuse their audience.  To have one of the pop glitterati on this record, just gives it an edge of publicity that it might not have achieved.  But all of that might be for nought, if the songs are awful - time to find out.....

Starting off the album is "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" which features the talents of My Morning Jacket, J Mascis and Fever The Ghost, it goes across as a strange mixture of faithful cover, de-glow noise, truly tripping out horror psychedelic and acid dropping crazy daydream fever.  It is both the best or worst cover you can imagine and the noisy solo which is dropped at the end of the song pretty much sums up the tune completely; this is organised chaos and it sets out the album in the correct tone.  "With A Little Help From My Friends" features Black Pus and Autumn Defense, much like "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" this is a mixture of faithful cover which has a sizeable chunk of crazy noise, off time drumming and manic screaming designed to either keep the audience guessing what is coming next or to annoy.  Much like the song itself, I have a feeling it is somewhere between the two points; with that said, I am not a fan of the original and this version was a hell of an improvement on that one - so not too shabby then.  Next on comes the track which has people up in arms before the album was even released - "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" featuring Miley Cyrus and Moby.  Once again, the band keeps their new version somewhere between original and re-imagination the source material.  Ms Cyrus's voice is actually well handled and suits the dream pop versions and big explosive chorus booms that sound like bombs being set off all at once.  I can honestly say that it is a very good cover and whilst not as good as the version from Elton John, it is still much better than the detractors will have you believe.  With a little help from Dr Dog, Chuck Inglish and Morgan Delt we have "Getting Better" which is one of the lesser know number for me on the original album.  For that reason I am not too sure how close it goes to the original, but after the opening trio being so strong this song sadly has filler wrote all over it.

"Fixing A Hole" which is brought to life with Electric Wurms (where do they find these glorious names) is a song I could gladly listen to all day long and this version is stunning.  Sounding like it is being recorded through visions in your sleep.  The psychedelic leaning of the song are just hypnotising and makes this a true sceptical on this record.  "She Is Leaving Home" which has the additional talent of Phantogram, Julianna Barwick and Spaceface and it is a much more straight forward version of the original song compared to other covers on the album.  It is performed beautifully and the vocals are stunning together with the musical reinterpretation of the number; however it feels just a tad safe compared to the rest of the record.  Still a beautiful number though, just very safe.  Afterward on "Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!", the serves of Puscifer (and by extension the vocal ability of Maynard James Keenan) and Sunbears! (the ! is part of the name) and the evil acid trip comes back with a vengeance for the listeners. Sounding like an attack of synths and an evil carnival, this cover takes a very sinister turning from the beginning and will probably be part of a nightmare in years to come.  It is a strange song which falls in both the wonderful and too out there sections of my mind and even after weeks of listening I am still not sure about it.  This act of bizarre musical sabotage/genius (delete as applicable) is followed by "Within You Without You", featuring the talents of Birdflower and Morgan Delt and is the only song on the album to be written outside of the McCartney-Lennon partnership by George Harrison.   Keeping the Indian drone vibe alive with a guitar and keyboard sounds.  It once again makes for what can only be described as both lunacy and genius in equal measure. 

"When I Am Sixty Four" is the ninth track featuring Def Rain & Pitchwafuzz is a minimalist horror tune, plain and simple it is just the most sinister thing on this album - I was going to award this to "Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!" but this track is just out there running towards the horizon that is on fire, juggling napalm with its laces undone.  Once more the song is closer to the original, but a million miles away from it as well - it is hard to explain, but the fact it is so scary makes it more enjoyable as well.  "Lovely Rita" in comparison is a summer's walk through a wonderful section of Northumberland in comparison.  Featuring the talents of Tegan and Sara & Stardeath and White Dwarfs, this track is very bass heavy and strangely danceable.  Much like "She Is Leaving Home" it is slightly safe, but anything after the cover of "When I Am Sixty Four" would feel safe.  It is still very clever and creates an interesting take on the original tune.  "Good Morning Good Morning" has the trio of Zorch, Grace Potter is just a bundle of happy joy and party happiness which is dumped with a heavy dose of psychedelic/electronica madness.  I love the fact that this song has been given this bizarre treatment; it feels so good to have this lunacy in my life at this point and bringing sunshine into this record again.  After this is the penultimate track "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" with Foxygen and Ben Goldwasser, it takes the original one minute plus song and stretches it out with a jam at the end to over five minutes.  The jam is interesting and sounds like it was lots of fun to make, but depending on your mood it is either self indulgent or fantastic.  Ending the album is "A Day In The Life" which once again has Miley Cyrus helping out as well as New Fumes.  The prevailing theme of being close to the original, but with a new slant via a cracked mirror is ongoing, I would be lying if I said this was a match to the original; but it is a different interpretation to one of the more classic songs, the noise ending does not have the orchestral drama of the original but at least it reaches a satisfying crescendo.

I have not has as much difficulty marking an album in an awfully long time; the idea of doing a covers album for charity is admirable and getting all those other artists to help out is brilliant as well.  Doing a cover of one of the most famous albums in the world and offering different slants to these works is interesting, but it does not make the album an essential purchase/listen.  It is the curiosity to see how these covers add up and the collaborations that gives people a reason to listen to it.  There are a few brilliant covers here, especially "When I'm Sixty Four", "Good Morning Good Morning" and "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds".  It is a good covers album, but from a band like The Flaming Lips, I really just want a new album from them and not another cover set (they have already done 'Dark Side Of The Moon').  That is not saying the album is not good, I have enjoyed it a lot; I just wish there was something else.  But overall, it comes close to getting the box of cats mark; but there is enough quality to give it a proper mark - can we now have an album of new songs please?

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - When I Am Sixty Four Featuring Def Rain & Pitchwafuzz

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Flaming Lips website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here (not currently available in the UK)

Here is a link to the album for our Deezer users - for some reason, it is available in the UK

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