The Flaming Lips get by with a little help from their friends

Tribute albums are a tricky thing to get right. You want to balance a respectful attitude to the original material, while also trying to update the music in some way. When you make a tribute album, there is no getting away from the fact that you’re using someone else’s music, so if you’re brave enough to try it you have to do something special.

There is a certain audacity in the act of making an album and a pile of money off someone else’s intellectual property. In light of this, your average tribute album would be made of contributions from a variety of different bands and artists. It’s quite surprising, then, that The Beatles’ seminal album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, is being updated by psychedelic space-rockers The Flaming Lips and a host of friends.

It seems even more unlikely that this album, titled With a Little Help from My Fwends, would be a success if you consider the inclusion of teenage superstar turned best-selling train wreck Miley Cyrus who sings on two songs,” Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and” A Day in the Life”. Tempting as it may be to criticise her inclusion, she performed her spaced out and eerie vocals admirably.

You could say that Cyrus is a modern cover version of The Beatles, pruned for success, polished and adored by fans all over the world. The Liverpudlians dominated the charts their whole career, even as they experimented with psychedelic music on Sgt. Pepper’s.

The Flaming Lips are well known for their extravagant ventures. They came up with headphone concerts while touring The Soft Bulletin. Their album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, was made into a Broadway musical which premiered in 2012 and they are known for playing their concerts beneath a silver UFO. It only makes sense for a band like them to do something as unthinkable as this.

Cover albums are usually a labour of love, with artists who pay homage to bands from whom they’ve learned their trade. Inversely, there are certain cover versions that stand out because they’re so unusual, Sonic Youth’s odd, krautrock take on The Carpenter’s “Superstar” being a perfect example. What side of the fence do The Flaming Lips fall then?

In general the album sounds fantastically weird. You can imagine The Beatles in the present day with the help of artists like Moby, Tegan and Sara, My Morning Jacket, J. Mascis and Foxygen. Not only does it sound great but all proceeds from the record will be donated to Oklahoma City’s Bella Foundation, which help low income or elderly pet owners pay for veterinary cover.

On the surface this album seemed destined for disaster, so to be able to talk of it in a positive light is nothing short of a roaring success.

Bryan Grogan

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