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Disc reviews: The Flaming Lips, ‘With A Little Help From My Fwends’

Pop

The Flaming Lips

With A Little Help From My Fwends

[Warner Bros.]

3 stars

There has long been an argument among rock snobs regarding which is the true psychedelic rock masterpiece to have emerged from London in the late ’60s – was it the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” or Pink Floyd’s “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”? Both albums were made under the influence of psychedelic drugs. In the case of the Beatles, it seems quite likely, based on multiple reports, that all four of them were discovering LSD at this time, but in the case of Floyd, it was leader and songwriter Syd Barrett who was gobbling the acid, and not the others.

The Flaming Lips, the true inheritors of the psychedelic high jinks at the heart of both of these classics, has come along not so much to settle the score as to reimagine the argument thus: What would it sound like if “Piper”-era Pink Floyd covered “Sgt. Pepper”? The answer is the Lips’ latest act of lovable tomfoolery, “With A Little Help From My Fwends,” a track-by-track reinterpretation of one of the two albums that most sane musicians would deem better left alone. (The other is Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” which the Lips already had its way with, rather successfully, a few years back.)

Rather than attempt to “be” the Beatles, something their ambitious but far less virtuoso musicianship would necessarily prohibit, Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins opted instead to call a bunch of their freakiest friends to aid them in their quest to inhabit the playful creative space that originally birthed “Pepper,” metaphorically speaking. Those “Fwends” run the gamut from Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Wilco side project the Autumn Defense, members of Puscifer to Miley Cyrus. All bend to the will of the Lips, who, with producers Dave Fridmann and Scott Booker, craft a contemporary psychedelic playground within which these much-loved songs frolic.

If you have a sense of humor, you’re likely to accept this in the spirit in which it was intended, meaning as a celebration of deeply imaginative music, and a reinterpreting of that music for the modern age. If not, you will probably find the whole thing sacrilegious.

– Jeff Miers

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