The Flaming Lips latest project makes sense in a slightly perverse way. Following the acid tinged trip of their last full-length album, 2013's The Terror, Wayne Coyne and his merry band have now chosen to tackle a track-by-track reinterpretation of the record that introduced acid to the world, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. A continuation of their series of eclectic collaborative albums, With A Little Help From My Fwends, is sadly a rather patchy affair. While ambitious in the same way as the Lips earlier attempt at re-recording Dark Side Of The Moon, the result of listening to one of the crown jewels of rock refracted through a 21st century psychedelic prism is rather disorientating and frustrating.
When this bold approach works, it does so surprisingly well. Songs like 'She's Leaving Home' and 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' showcase a delicate balance between The Beatles' song writing and The Flaming Lips' sonic capabilities. However far too often the record strays into a disorientating aural assault. Take for example 'Within You, Without You'. The original was a subdued slice of otherworldly introspection. Yet here it descends into a technical exercise to squeeze every last piece of feedback out of the amps and strange noises out of the keyboards. While I'm not averse to radical re=workings some of the material here just sounds like a step too far, and detrimental to the source material.
That's not to say I'd be happy with a faithful note-by-note presentation either. When the Flaming Lips approach works, it's usually because they're enhancing what's already there, rather than hijacking it. For many listeners the air of familiarity to the songs will be an important factor, so when the new approach goes completely off-piste, that's when it seems to be most problematic. There are also an impressive number of guests here, but again at times it's difficult to identify their actual contribution through the Lips' acid haze. One such example is on the opening track itself. J.Mascis rips through the guitar parts admirably, but I'm not entirely sure if I could point out My Morning Jacket in the crowd.
Perhaps sensibly then Coyne and co have chosen one of their strongest re-imaginings as the lead single from the record. 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' is successful for a number of reasons. Firstly it defies expectation with the variety of guests; surprisingly Miley Cyrus and Moby exist in the same space and time here. But more importantly it's the subtlety with which the various instruments are introduced. The original sounded like naive baby steps into a drug-fuelled hallucination. The lead female vocal and Moby's droning backing, transform the track into something more majestic. It's unmistakably the same song, but by the time the thundering chorus arrives you realise this isn't quite the same trip you've heard for all these years. It's a similar story with closing track 'A Day In The Life', again featuring Cyrus, which is also worth investigating.
It feels like it might've been quite a challenge to keep a consistent sound whilst balancing so many contributors. Coupled with tackling a set of songs that many hold in the highest regard, and it's understandable that With A Little Help From My Fwends feels disappointing at times. It works sonically as a companion piece to The Terror, but falls short of being a triumphant retelling of a standout moment in rock history. There's a tremendous sense of affection and reverence for the source material, but you can't help but feel that an album of new material with the same cast of contributors may have ultimately been more satisfying.
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