Probably the least anticipated album of 2014 was the Flaming Lips’ cover of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Although the biggest surprise (mostly in a bad way, it seemed) was Wayne Coyne’s embrace (metaphorical, we hope) of Miley Cyrus. The fact that Cyrus appears on this record at all totally overshadowed the fact that so many other people and bands appeared here as well. I literally had no idea at the names that contributed to this electronic psychedelic re-imagining of a very psychedelic album.
The biggest overall difference between the two is that the Beatles’ psychedelia was conveyed through organic instruments–strings, horns, sitar, piano–while The Fwends version is almost entirely electronic. This of course means that the album sounds very different from the original. But what I think makes the album a success overall is that the various artists involved all bring a slightly different vision to the proceedings. This makes it less of a Flaming Lips record and more of a Friends of Lips-style psychedelia collection. I’m not even sure why it’s a Flaming Lips record, except that they are credited with playing on a bunch of songs (and presumably produced it–which explains some of the excess noise on the record).
Obviously, they are not trying to improve on the original. And obviously, die-hard Beatles fans are appalled at this travesty. But anyone who knows the Beatles knows that they were all about experimenting themselves. Rather than getting mad about this, perhaps listeners should see that they are having fun with the originals–sometimes staying faithful, sometimes exploring other ways to do songs, and sometimes just throwing everything out the window for a chance to jam. And some versions you may even like.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” featuring My Morning Jacket, Fever the Ghost & J Mascis
The song starts out with a goofy falsetto rendition of the song which makes it seem like the whole album is going to be a big joke (I assume this is Fever the Ghost whom I don’t know). But I loved the way the “record” slows down to let MMJ take over with a great noisy, respectful chorus. The song could certainly use more MMJ. When “Billy Shears” is introduced, it turns out be J Masics playing a totally song-inappropriate wailing guitar solo.
“With a Little Help from My Friends” featuring The Flaming Lips, Black Pus & Autumn Defense
I love that Wayne sings this verse (about being out of tune) with an auto tune on his voice. He sings it really quite lovely. I even enjoy that the response verses are done in a kind of out of tune crazy way. But the problem is that they are too much–it turns the song into too much of a joke (which is to be expected form a band called Black Pus, I suppose). It’s a shame because the idea could work really well if it didn’t sound like someone crashing a party. Autumn Defense is a side project from the bassist for Wilco, and I assume he does the lovely harmony vocals.
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” featuring The Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus & Moby
Miley so overshadows everyone on this song that I didn’t even realize Moby was on it. Miley sounds really quite good in this version–not all that dissimilar to John’s falsetto voice on the original. The removal of the big drum before the chorus is distressing, although I do like the replacement, the echoed “gone” part. I like that they are having fun with the song (the repeat of “Marshmallow Pie” is cute) I just wish the chorus wasn’t mixed so loud that it is so distorted. I hate that about recent Lips releases, why do they do it?
“Getting Better” featuring Dr. Dog, Chuck Inglish & Morgan Delt
Dr Dog sounds great in this version, although I find Inglish’s recitation (in which he can’t seem to hit any notes on the few times when he “sings” to be rather unsettling). I don’t know Morgan Delt, but I find his trippy vocals to work quite well.
“Fixing a Hole” featuring Electric Würms
Electric Würms are the side project of Flaming Lip Steven Drozd. This is claustrophobic but quite appropriate for the song (I wish it were a little cleaner though).
“She’s Leaving Home” featuring Phantogram, Julianna Barwick & Spaceface
This is a great, delicate version of this with Phantogram and Barwick sharing lead vocals duties. It’s quite lovely.
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” featuring The Flaming Lips, Maynard James Keenan, Puscifer & Sunbears!
Maynard does a great job reciting the song. The song is not necessarily more trippy than the original (which is pretty trippy, it’s just a lot more electronic-sounding. It’s a weird but cool rendition of the song.
“Within You Without You” featuring The Flaming Lips, Birdflower & Morgan Delt
I don’t Birdflower, but she does a great job in a higher register with the Indian melody (it’s all electronic and not traditional Indian instrumentation but it sounds cool). Delt sings alternate leads and is a good counterpoint.
“When I’m Sixty-Four” featuring The Flaming Lips, Def Rain & Pitchwafuzz
I don’t know Def Rain or Pitchwafuzz, but I think Def Rain is doing the voice. The robotic voice that sings this song is kind of fun–a little too much at times, but overall fun.
“Lovely Rita” featuring Tegan and Sara & Stardeath and White Dwarfs
Tegan and Sara have fun with this song while the noise from Stardeath is much darker than the original.
“Good Morning Good Morning” featuring Zorch, Grace Potter & Treasure Mammal
This song is a little wild (although so is the original). I don’t know any of the artists involved in it.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” featuring Foxygen & Ben Goldwasser
Foxygen takes this one minute reprise and turns it into a five minute jam session. It has nothing at all to do with the original and it is a weird way to delay the final song. I don’t know what Goldwasser contributes. If you can get past the fact that it sound nothing like the original, it’s an interesting noisy jam.
“A Day in the Life” featuring The Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus & New Fumes
Wayne and Miley duet on this, with again, Wayne taking the vocals seriously. Wayne does the “John” verses. The switch to Miley’s take on the “Paul” verses is a pretty big shock the way it sounds so stark and electronic. There’s a few too many echoes on her part, but again, Miley does pretty well with a detached reading. And because they are difficult, the end just gets cut off before the final famous crescendo.
So is this a great record that people will listen to a lot? Nope. Is it an interesting twist on a famous record? Sure. Is it enjoyable? For the most part. As long a you don’t think of it is a definitive re-make, and accept it as a way to raise money for a charity.
[READ: January 28, 2015] “Wagner in the Desert”
This story reminded me in spirit of both Less than Zero and Generation X, but perhaps for Generation Y.
It’s about a bunch of friends getting ready to ring in the New Year in Palm Springs with a lot of drugs.
The narrator and friends were vacationing some friends from whom he had drifted. Marta and Eli were trying to have a baby and were looking to do one more sort of wild night before it all became to real: “The Baby Bucket List they were calling it.” So they all headed to Palm Springs, a group of “modern hustlers: filmmakers, ad writers (screen, Web, magazine), who periodically worked as narrative consultants on ad campaigns, sustainability experts, P.R. lifers, designers, or design consultants, social entrepreneurs and that strange species of human beings who has invented an app.”
Unlike the coke heads of the 80s, though: “We thought we were not bad people. Not the best, a bit spoiled, maybe, but pleasant, inconstant, decent.”
The group were all paired off except for the narrator and Lily, who was pretty and neurotic, an executive in training. And he soon filled the role of her gofer because “she needed a lot of things.” He had hoped to have sex with her–his only goal for the vacation. But as of day three, they had only made out a bit.
On the third day, Eli revealed that he was actually in Palm Spring to meet Wagner, a financier who he hoped could help with his film about economist Albert O. Hirschman.
That night, the narrator gets very stoned and there’s a lengthy amusing masturbating-while-stoned sequence. He more or less knew that nothing would happen with Lily and while he felt cheated, it was more about wanting something to happen not just about having sex.
Day four was New Year’s Eve. They all head to a party at which Wagner will be present. Eli does some coke and gets thoughtful, and I love the way the narrator deflated the whole bucket list idea: “It’s not like there’s some perfect moment of some perfect evening when you go That. That was it. That was living.”
But he is not the only one who can say sensible things under strange circumstance. Lily addresses his obvious desire to have sex with her in an even handed and frankly impressive way.
Even Wagner has some common sense advice. He says that once you have achieve all you desire (as he has) you need “Courtiers–they’re better and worse than friends. They don’t care about you, sure, but they understand the terms of your success far better than a friend ever could.”
The final line of the story is sort of profound and stupid at the same time, and while I don’t know if there is any kind of tie in to Coupland or Ellis, I feel like this story somehow mocks and embraces them both. I really enjoyed it.