Flaming Lips new album needs help from new friends

Emma Dahl

As a child of the Millennium, I can’t claim to truly know The Beatles. I didn’t grow up during their era; my development as a person wasn’t coupled with their own musical growth (as described in the movie “Across the Universe”). But I am capable of recognizing the band’s sacredness, their near-divine status and their omnipotent influence over all rock and roll that followed their domination of the music industry.

So when I heard that modern indie group The Flaming Lips had completely remade Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I was instantly on my guard. The prospect made me nervous because covers can be a lot of things; they can be tributes, they can be re-imaginings, they can even be improvements on the original. However, they can easily butcher the song they’re meant to cover, rendering it unrecognizable and sometimes cringe-worthy.

But aside from the cover band’s intentions and musical quality, a cover’s success lies on its relationship to the original song. The cover’s reception is a function of what the original song meant to its fans: A good cover retains some of the identity of the original song, paying tribute to what made the song catchy or popular, while taking the song in a new and enjoyable direction.

But when it comes to covering Beatles songs, all you can really do is pay homage. Their songs are such entities unto themselves that trying to reinterpret and recreate them is futile. The Beatles had an incredibly substantial following, and so many memories are attached to their songs. Trying to re-imagine them seems to threaten an entire era and alienate a whole generation.

And yet, the daunting task of covering the whole of Sgt. Pepper’s didn’t seem to faze The Flaming Lips. They went all out, enlisting the help of such modern artists as My Morning Jacket, Foxygen and –– dare I be the bearer of bad news –– Miley Cyrus. If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable to think about what kind of album they produced, I don’t know what will.

In short, the album is a noisy mess. I challenge you to derive any kind of melody from their version of “With a Little Help From My Friends.” It’s impossible. It’s the same case with most of the tracks; they are full of synthesizers and artificial percussion and super-altered vocals but completely devoid of any of the raw je ne sais quoi that made the original album so great. Frankly, the songs are altered beyond recognition, and what they have become is not something worth listening to. The title itself is cringe-worthy, a sour attempt to implant modern slang into a classic Beatles lyric: With A Little Help From My Fwends. Ugh.

Yes, sometimes experimental rock is a challenge to listen to, and with a little effort it can be rewarding. It takes real talent to walk your music down that thin line between noise and art (Animal Collective does this very well). But this album isn’t rewarding. It sounds like a 5-year-old was set loose on the soundboards when it came time to mix the album; it’s chaos. It seems that The Beatles’ music just doesn’t work through the Flaming Lips’ esoteric filter.

The album is like the destructive interference of waveforms; whereas either band stands well enough on its own two feet, trying to combine them results in something indigestible. Perhaps fans of modern experimentalist indie rock could appreciate the album, but if you have any respect for The Beatles and what their contributions meant to the development of modern music, I’d avoid this album at all cost.