[18 March 2014]
Ramshackle seems to be a pretty good adjective for the rock music released this year. There was the five seconds till the end of the world insanity of Silver Mt. Zion’s Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything, the Men’s love letter to classic rock in Tomorrow’s Hits and now, the most off the rails of them all, Black Lips’ Underneath the Rainbow. The Atlanta-based lunatics let us in on a whole hell of a lot of debauchery that they’ve undertaken. From car chases, run ins with the law, to more illicit substances that can be counted, the GG Allin inspired mad men deliver a deeply entertaining but less than cohesive album with their seventh album.
Thematically there isn’t much holding Underneath the Rainbow together. Black Lips seem to enjoy swerving wildly from one idea to another without even tapping on the breaks. Only two tenuous threads seem to connect these pieces together; terrible experiences with the police, and hallucinogenic trips. “So call the cops / Tell them to come pick me up,” opens “Smiling” where the entire band seems to have been place in jail after a powerful binge. They get into “Smokey and the Bandit” shenanigans on “Waiting” and the unfortunately plodding “Justice After All” has the outfit nervously eyeing cops while on the road.
Musically Black Lips stick to a swampy mix of blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and psychedelic vibes. They roll along like a less death obsessed Black Angels or an infinitely more stoned version of the Black Keys. Black Lips have a ton of fun warping pop songs into acid washed trips. “I Don’t Wanna Go Home” is built off of catchy whistling above gritty bass and the bluesy shuffle of “Dandelion Dust” creeps along at a great pace. There are some song choices that just don’t fit with the rest of the madness. “Make You Mine” is so straight forward that it becomes the lame dog in a pack of rabid wolfs. “Do the Vibrate” doesn’t have enough menace or boogey in its step and breaks up the excellent flow on the second half of the album.
But Jesus Christ do Black Lips know how to make a fantastically unhinged song or two. Words are spit out like tobacco on “Dorner Party” (classy guys) but the two big guns here are “Funny” and “Boys in the Wood”. “Funny” is a psychedelic stomper of a song with a massive chorus and a perfect old school organ to back up the rumbling low end. Doesn’t hurt that the instruments drop out towards the end leaving only the sing-along chorus and a backing clap that demands a crowd to join in. “Boys in the Wood” is a Creedence Clearwater Revival indebted swamp rocker that sways along with a confident and drunken stride. Its chorus is even bigger than “Funny” and it’s further compounded by the addition of slowly growing brass, like a marching band ran into one of Black Lips’ chaotic live shows.
Underneath the Rainbow ain’t the best rock album made this year, but it’s a great introduction to Black Lips. All the hell-raising insanity that they’ve brought to their music is neatly packaged here and the best songs seem ready to explode at any second. It’s an uneven, but enjoyable ride.