flaming-lips1[xrr rating=2.5/5]If you thought that the Flaming Lips’ grim 2013 album, The Terror, signaled a shift away from zany antics by Wayne Coyne and co., you were way off. After all, that dark turn by this Technicolor band had been preceded by an announcement that they would be releasing The Flaming Side of the Moon, a companion album to be played alongside Pink Floyd’s classic. It takes quite a bit of hubris to try to expound on a prog-rock landmark like that, even if it is partially an April Fools’ Day joke.

But this was merely another in a long line of Lips cover albums. In 2009, they covered Dark Side of the Moon track-for-track with Stardeath and White Dwarves, Henry Rollins and Peaches, and they’ve also released albums covering King Crimson and the Stone Roses. The band met a little pushback after their first stab at Dark Side, so you’d think that they would stay away from retooling the most revered of artists. Instead, the Flaming Lips pile on the collaborators and stamp their name on the Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s… in the form of cover album With a Little Help From My Fwends.

With Fwends, the Lips saw a world where there was considerable distance between the Beatles and Miley Cyrus and decided to close that gap twice over. Cyrus appears in two tracks, closer “A Day in the Life” and, most notably, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” alongside Moby. The latter is a perfect example of how this release ultimately fails to achieve anything above novelty status. Cyrus’s voice is flat in the verses and overly manipulated in the chorus, while Moby’s vocal contributions are reduced to murmurs until the chorus blows up in to the kind of aural glitter-bomb characteristic of the Lips at their most garish. At best, it’s kind of interesting to hear once.

That’s true with most of Fwends. The record opens auspiciously enough with the introductory “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” performed with a little help from My Morning Jacket, Fever the Ghost, and J Mascis. With some trippy, munchkin-ized vocals adding that Flaming Lips oddball factor, the track goes cutesy-psychedelic before reverting to more a more homage-driven cover. Every song here is packed with several collaborators, to the point that the Flaming Lips sometimes hand over the reins entirely. That happens on the breathy and purposely off-key “Getting Better,” which is handled entirely by Dr. Dog, Chuck Inglish and Morgan Delt. Meanwhile, Phantogram supplies the stuttering electronics and Julianna Barwick offers up the sultry vocals in a dreamy and relatively effective “She’s Leaving Home.” The heavily distorted “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is anchored by Tool’s Maynard James Keenan who brings a demented carnival barker element to the mix. And “When I’m Sixty Four” taps some of the darkness from The Terror, adding an ominous feel to one of the source material’s most endearingly maudlin numbers.

All in all, Fwends is as unremarkable as it is polarizing. On the one hand, there are no sacred cows in music, and the Beatles are no exception. But there’s also something understandably irksome about some of the 20th century’s most enduring music being re-appropriated by a band whose frontman recently caused a stir by Instagramming photos of a Native American ceremonial headdress on his dog. Casting aside these qualms, the music itself offers few surprises. Instead, you get what you pay for, an offbeat collection of songs made all the ostentatiously stranger when passing through the distorted prism of the Flaming Lips.

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