Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was recorded on four-track equipment. That’s common knowledge, but it underscores a key part of the record’s enduring fascination: a taut, near-minimalist economy of sounds that melded remarkably well with the group’s grander psychedelic overtures. Consider the staccato guitar blasts that open “Getting Better,” or the E-major chord that famously closes out “A Day in the Life.”
There’s not a whole lot of that light touch — though plenty of the psychedelia — on With a Little Help From My Fwends, a guest-heavy Flaming Lips tribute that buzzes, gurgles and trembles under the weight of its oppressively trippy aspirations. The result is frequently entertaining at best: “With a Little Help From My Friends” soils Ringo’s pristine vocal melody with comically distorted howls (“Would you stand up and walk out on me!” becomes a violently accusatory charge), while “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” recruits Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, of all people, for a surging, industrial bastardization of Lennon’s whimsical romp. Foxygen and MGMT‘s Ben Goldwasser join in time for a plodding, cacophonous jam on the title track’s reprise. In Lips parlance, it’s all rather heady.
Naturally, Wayne Coyne & co. are wise enough to recognize a faithful Beatles cover as a fool’s errand — but at what cost? Coyne pal Miley Cyrus is surprisingly suited to Paul McCartney‘s “Day in the Life” coda, but dense, synth-damaged renditions of “Lovely Rita” and “When I’m Sixty-Four” suck the joy out of the enterprise. The group’s best covers, from In a Priest Driven Ambulance‘s “What a Wonderful World” through to 2003′s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” have always affixed a shaky, endearing vulnerability to the original. Fwends, though, like countless other erratic between-LP diversions (Gummy Skull Song, “7 Skies H3,” the Heady Fwends collaborations), resembles an intriguing lab experiment gone awry more than it does a rock band. File under: Probably More Fun to Record Than Listen To.