Thursday, March 4, 2010

New Music: The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing The Dark Side of the Moon

Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon really needs no introduction, as it has been one of the most enduring albums in rock history. Having spent a mind-blowing 741 weeks on the Billboard 200 and selling over 45 million copies worldwide, that little prism has been burned into our brains and the record is still a rite of passage in college dorms all around the world. Over the years, many artists have “paid tribute” to this masterpiece by covering it front to back, including Phish and Dream Theater. You can even find a bluegrass version (Dark Side of the Moonshine), a string quartet version, an acapella version, and a dub step version. The Flaming Lips are the most recent band to take on this daunting task, having released their own version of Dark Side of the Moon digitally this past December.

For nearly thirty years, Wayne Coyne and his psychadelic band of merrymakers have taken on experimental projects that have run from brilliant to gimmicky, so their decision to cover Dark Side isn’t too surprising. But, really, why would they want to? Remaking such a beloved classic can be a tricky proposition, as there’s a delicate line drawn between honor and blasphemy.

With their version, the Lips get by with a little help from their friends (and family). Joining them on the recording are Wayne’s nephew Dennis and his band, Stardeath and White Dwarfs. Henry Rollins handles all of the speaking parts and Peaches brings a bit of a woman’s touch to the festivities.

The album opens up with “Speak to Me,” which starts as an ominous collaboration of heartbeats and helicopters, with Rollins slightly overacting his part of the mad man. On “Breathe,” Floyd’s lush beauty is traded in for crunchy freak-out rock, sending an immediate message that this is not the same Dark Side of the Moon. On “Time,” the ringing alarms and ticking of clocks are replaced by a chorus of coughs, leading into a version of the song that has a darker ferocity than the original ever did.

“Great Gig in the Sky” becomes a funky party tune, with Peaches screaming wildly over heavy guitar riffs. Probably my favorite song off of Floyd’s original, the Lips’ reimagining is jarring at first, but grows on you very quickly. The same can’t be said for their auto-tune drenched take on “Money.” As Devo taught us, robot voices and synthesizers can be an excellent combination but they come off as fairly self-indulgent here, like they’re trying too hard to be unconventional.

The album loses steam towards the end. “Brain Damage” is especially disappointing, as the fist-pumping sing-along drama of the original is lost in the Lips’ lead-paced, uncomfortable bore. The set finishes with a jubilant version of “Eclipse,” which ends the album on a high-note.

Like much of their recent output, The Flaming Lips’ Dark Side of the Moon is uneven, reaching some high peaks but also trodding through some harsh musical deserts. At the very least, it’s interesting to hear a fresh take on an old classic, but you’ll be reaching for the original, and perhaps your copy of The Wizard of Oz, by the time it’s over. 

(The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarf with Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing The Dark Side of the Moon, released via Warner Bros., is now available on iTunes and other digital music retailers.)

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