One has only to look as far as The Flaming Lips appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live this Halloween for a visual aid as to their approach to covering the Beatles Sgt Pepper in it’s not insubstantial entirety. The original Beatles album was and is gargantuan in its cultural significance, likeability and density of hits. It would indeed seem an insurmountable feat to effectively cover the album without either mimicking it or doing it a disservice. The Flaming Lips do it through the medium of fun.
One may think that the obvious approach would be to carefully deconstruct each song and reformulate them into distinguishable yet tasteful cover songs. However the Flaming Lips are rarely ones for tip-toeing on eggshells. Where Sgt Pepper dips its toe into the psychedelic pool, Fwends pushes you overboard into the sea and then launches you into space, slapping you in the face on your way.
This is not to say that the album doesn’t work or indeed is offensive. The Lips demonstrate their skill of creating a measured madness where the melodies hide behind a synthesised distorted veil of psychadelia and beards. Yet the melodies are importantly there. Some original Beatles samples creep in on some tracks where as elsewhere they are replaced by Wayne Coynes lead vocals and the likes of Moby, Miley Cyrus, Foxygen and My Morning Jacket.
A lot of the noise is white, the guitars are distorted to the max and the spacey effects and sci-fi synths are characteristic of the Lips. Also featured is some rather suspect use of auto-tune which adds to the alien feel of the album. All of these sonic aspects create a totally new feel to each track whilst still retaining the catchier sing-along hooks that make their original counterparts so appealing.
The head-banging psych rock approach could have come across as incongruous and even sacrilegious by die-hard Beatles fans. However the Flaming Lips achieve an impressive balance of tongue in cheek and respectfully reference to create a worthwhile cover album. At times, an assault on the ears but not so on their psychedelic forefathers.
Words: Matthew Wright