Quick Spins: Little Big Town, The Flaming Lips
LIttle Big Town (Capitol Nashville)
How do the four vocalists of Little Big Town respond to the platinum success of the group's most rewarded album, 2012's "Tornado?" Certainly not by playing it safe.
On their sixth album, "Pain Killer," Little Big Town — Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook — experiment endlessly with harmonies, arrangements, loops and sound effects. The whistles, odd beats and unconventional guitar work that woozily circle through the first single, "Day Drinking," only hint at the shenanigans the singers and their producer Jay Joyce cram into these 13 new songs.
Most of it is for the sake of fun — you can hear how gleeful the group is as they test outlandish ideas on such songs as "Quit Breaking Up With Me," ''Good People," the Lorde-like "Things You Don't Think About" and the title song. But they also show off the beauty of their blended voices on the hushed "Silver and Gold" and the stunning "Live Forever," written by the group with Jeremy Spillman and Ryan Tyndell.
The Grammy-winning band only stumbles on "Faster Gun," with its awkward cowboy similes. The rest of the album keeps raising the bar: Little Big Town, from early on, never followed country music formulas. With "Pain Killer," their boldness continues to pay off.
"With a Little Help from My Fwends"
The Flaming Lips (Warner Bros.)
Ever wonder what "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" would sound like sung by robots? Me neither, but here's the answer.
The Flaming Lips have recorded a full-length tribute to the Beatles' 1967 album, and the music is even more far-out and psychedelic than the landmark original. This daft pop is silly, bombastic, druggy, irreverent and rude, with lots of bleeps and blasts, but it's not much fun or funny.
The songs lack the melodic charm and rhythmic bounce of the Fab Four renditions. Instead, there's so much distortion not even "Lovely Rita" is pretty.
And if the goal is merely to be weird, the Lips don't come close to matching William Shatner, who established the standard for bizarre Beatles covers when he sang "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds." There's no Shatner here, but guest appearances by Miley Cyrus, Moby, My Morning Jacket and J Mascis — among others — fail to salvage the set.
The Lips forgo the famous sustained chord to conclude "A Day In the Life." Instead, the song and album end abruptly, as if someone finally wised up and pulled the plug.