Think Outside the Boom Box: Black Lips brandish woozy, classic rock return

Music columnist Patrick McKenna on the Atlanta bad boys’ seventh LP

By Patrick McKenna | March 12, 2014

Tags: Music Reviews

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As rock ‘n’ roll faces a crossroad between becoming known for polished, pop-heavy impersonators or remaining a genre filled with raw emotions and artistic intensity, the number of bands holding strong to rock’s original values are depleting.

One band refuses to join the masses, however, and has relentlessly shown musical maturity while never losing its crude, raunchy persona. The Black Lips are this band, and they’ve returned with a new album full of past, present and future elements of rock ‘n’ roll that settles in just right.

Known (in)famously for their wilder-than-imaginable stage antics (ranging from making out with to vomiting on fans) which help generate some of the loudest, most out of control live showmanship around, the Black Lips were just a group of southern-style weirdos who got kicked out of high school — for, basically, being weirdos — about 15 years ago. Since then, they’ve become one of the prime groups of garage revivalists, performing their blend of punk and “hippie” rock for the entire globe — and never missing a beat in disrespecting, well, everyone.

The Atlanta-based group returns with their greatly anticipated seventh album, Underneath the Rainbow, with not necessarily a full change in direction, but with a slight alteration.

The album holds dark, lo-fi, sludge-filled songs reminiscent of the group’s Let it Bloom days, while incorporating fresh sounds and elements of honky-tonk bar brawls (“Drive-By Buddy”), nostalgic days spent in jail cells (“Smiling”), and some good, old-fashioned running from the cops (“Dorner Party”) — all rich with mind-melting guitar attacks.

Underneath the Rainbow, produced by The Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, prevents listeners from doing any concrete labeling.

Much like Black Lips records in the past, Underneath the Rainbow has a naturally grimy, lo-fi vibe that trails an upbeat, danceable southern rock tempo with their customary “flower-punk.” What separates this record from past Black Lips records, however, is its evident guitar and structural influence taken from ‘70s California rock, most notably Everybody Knows this is Nowhere-era Neil Young, and early rockabilly and modernized blues.

From start to finish, this album provides what every Lips lover craves: dirty rock ‘n’ roll played with a southern-blues twist that provides for boisterous moshing and just enough pop to scream along to.

The lead single, “Boys in the Wood,” holds the clearest influence from blues-prodigy Auerbach, with drum beats and a growly Cole Alexander to set the dingy, rebellious mood the Lips do oh so well with.

“Justice After All,” on the other hand, retreats to a folk-rock land that Neil Young found bountiful success in, with the lyrics “Every action, every act, everywhere I stay / Don't we get a little space? Can’t we get along?” demanding the continuously merciless face of American authority back off.

In the end, Underneath the Rainbow is akin to all Black Lips albums — a collection of fantastic punk-filled ball-busters with a throwaway track here and there. Yet with this album, the band trades usually plentifully murky atmosphere for a more polished, but still filthy sound. No matter what they release, the Black Lips will always be the chaotic danger-loving Black Lips fans are accustomed to.

As said best by the boys themselves, “Ain't gonna live for tomorrow / You know you never should.”

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