From time to time I’ll escape the Valley for Venice Beach to be one with the ocean. I’ll head over to a local bar to have a drink, and, unsurprisingly, I’ll occasionally hear a cover band performing in a nearby room, usually at a noticeably louder volume than what’s going on in the rest of the place.

I say “unsurprisingly” because Venice is full of buskers and makeshift musical groups all trying to put their spins on popular hit songs. What they don’t understand, however, is that their covers are more turn-offs than turn-ons most of the time, and the volume needs to be turned down. WAY down.

That’s how I feel about most covers, though. If I hear a cover, I find myself just thinking back to the original (i.e., better) version. This is especially true when anyone tries to cover The Beatles, the standard for all things rock and roll. They say that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” but it’s still imitation, and when I hear someone on the streets of Venice attempt “Come Together” or “Blackbird,” I’m just reminded they they aren’t The Beatles. They may have done their homework, but they’re still just students while John, Paul, George, and Ringo are the teachers.

That brings us to With A Little Help From My Fwends, a cover album of arguably the pinnacle of the Beatles’ career, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, as performed by The Flaming Lips and their “fwends.” Though it’s not actually the first time the notoriously psyched-out Oklahoma “fearless freaks” have covered an entire album (they’ve previously tackled Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with Stardeath and White Dwarfs, as well as King Crimson’s In The Court of the Crimson King), it appears to be the most blasphemous, as the band is offering its spin on what is arguably the game-changer in modern music history.

The Flaming Lips - WALHFMF Cover Art

Is it blasphemous, though? Does it even matter? The answers don’t come easy. While covering the more jolly instrumentation of Sgt. Pepper’s gives The Flaming Lips’ recent acid-trips into chilly and desolate atmospheres (The Terror) and 24-hour nowheresville (7 Skies H3) a little more pep, they don’t necessarily do anything more for the album than to insinuate the possible drug-references thought to be laced throughout it.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to forget the original versions enough to dive into this cover album as its own entity. Right from the introduction, when I heard the track both sped-up and slowed-down, I was reminded of the vibe of the original, but the feeling was superficial and based on nostalgia; the innovation instrumental (literally) to making the original so awe-inspiring just isn’t present on the cover.

While listening to the album, I often found myself humming the lyrics, the basslines, the drum hits, and the guitar chords of the original tracks, but on With A Little Help…, the parts would meander or be compositionally derivative. They drowned out Lennon and McCartney’s great lyrics with unnecessary layering, as on “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “Getting Better,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” or “Fixing A Hole,” which linger on for too long or see the musicians changing direction without notice, as if to try out whatever ideas might have been remotely fresh in their minds before being laid down to wax. Even the already tripped-out “For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” (the track I looked most forward to hearing as it features Maynard James Keenan) is just exponentially more tripped-out to little effect.

Certain tracks on With A Little Help… are better at disassociating themselves from their original versions than others, and that is mainly due to who’s being featured. Miley Cyrus’ additions to “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “A Day In The Life” — as much as I hate to say it — are quite welcoming (ugh), as she helps contrast the otherwise caustic soundscape with eerie, prancing innocence. Phantogram and Julianna Barwick’s take on “She’s Leaving Home” is also astute, turning a lovely string-orchestrated composition into a rhythmic electric-light wonderland, giving the song a character and definition all its own.

But most of With A Little Help From My Fwends’ production is just so hit-or-miss that how much you’ll like the album boils down to how big of a fan you are of the parties involved. This is in stark contrast to The Flaming Lips’ previous fwends output, the 2012 Record Store Day album The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, a surprisingly cohesive group of wholly original tracks featuring an inspired group of collaborators. This album features a group of new collaborators covering the artists that inspired them without exhibiting any self-control.

I would recommend giving a listen to the few tracks on With A Little Help From My Fwends that are in a way “different,” but considering how you really need to listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from front-to-back to get the full effect, this covers album is disappointingly shallow despite its overabundance of almost everything.

With A Little Help From My Fwends is available tomorrow, October 28th, via Warner Bros. Records.

For more info:

The Flaming Lips