The Flaming Lips and “Fwends” mess with the Beatles’ perfection


Photo credit/ Katlynn Whitaker

Patrick Kernan, Opinion Editor

It seems that, every few years, when the Flaming Lips get bored, they decide to get a group of musicians together to cover a classic album. In 2009, they did this with Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” and now they’ve amassed a group of 29 artists and covered the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” titling this new version “With a Little Help from My Fwends.”

The original “Sgt. Pepper” is, undoubtedly, one of the best albums of all time. Sure, all of the individual songs on the album are brilliant, but the true strength of “Sgt. Pepper” is the way that it works as an album. It marked a big enough shift in the sound of the Beatles that it was almost believable that it was an album by the fictional Lonely Hearts Club Band.

“Fwends” does not have this sense of cohesion and concept at all. It almost feels as though Wayne Coyne, lead singer of the Flaming Lips, simply wanted to make “Sgt. Pepper” as strange and abrasive to listen to as possible.

The album opens with the two-parter “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “With a Little Help from My Friends.” But the versions found on “Fwends” are mere shadows of their former selves.

These tracks don’t welcome the listener into the album; instead, the listener is punished by totally atonal singing with no sense of rhythm and a chaotic wall of sound, and I wanted to stop the album almost as soon as I started it.

The sense of needless chaos pervades much of the first half of “Fwends.” Tracks like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Getting Better” would be far better if it weren’t for some of the absurdly complex instrumental parts.

As “Fwends” goes on, it does get a bit better, though. Many of the songs become less experimental and more faithful to the original Beatles versions, and this makes songs that are occasionally forgotten about on the original album like “She’s Leaving Home” and “Good Morning Good Morning” some of the best tracks on “Fwends.”

Unfortunately, the fact that the only good songs on “Fwends” sound more or less exactly like the original versions of the songs only serves to reinforce how bad some of the other tracks on this release are. As excellent as the Phantogram-fronted version of “She’s Leaving Home” is on “Fwends,” all it does is remind me that I could easily be listening to “Sgt. Pepper” and having a better time for myself.

Despite this, the album wraps up on a strong point with the reprise of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “A Day in the Life.” Foxygen and Ben Goldwasser of MGMT have a real field day with the “Sgt. Pepper” reprise, turning it into a 5-minute-long jam session, turning what was only a throwaway track on the original album into an astounding piece of musicianship.

The version of “A Day in the Life” on “Fwends,” featuring Miley Cyrus—yes, that Miley Cyrus—and New Fumes strikes the perfect balance between sounding like the original track and doing new things with it. The Flaming Lips take their trademark psychedelic sound to the track, and make it a true joy to listen to. “A Day in the Life” was the best track on the original version of this album, and the same is true here.

On the whole, “With a Little Help from My Fwends” is a bit of a mess. There are some frankly awful tracks on it, but there are also some interesting interpretations of classic Beatles songs. I’m giving this album a 2 out of 5, because, as messy as it is, hardcore fans of both the Beatles and the Flaming Lips will find this release interesting to say the least.