The Black Lips hone their songcraft without getting slick

Georgia garage-punks’ seventh album a strong step forward

March 31, 2014

The Black Lips’ soon-to-be 32-year-old frontman Cole Alexander may be aging—he and his Atlanta, Georgia-based bandmates are less likely to vomit or strip naked onstage these days—but no one could say they’re maturing. In fact, they were the wildest act in the recent four-hour Lou Reed tribute at SXSW, with Cole literally rolling on the floor as the band tore through the Velvets’ “Run Run Run.” But the performance didn’t stand out only because of the antics; they also slayed musically.

Throughout a career that now stretches through 15 years and seven albums, too many people have lauded the quartet’s live shows and slighted its recordings. Some fans hail Good Bad Not Evil (2007) as the disc to own, and they pretty much overlook the rest. The shortsighted knock on the group’s latest is that it’s “too slick”—as if focusing a little more on the hooks and splitting the production chores between the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney and the Dap Kings’ Tommy Brenneck is the underground equivalent of turning to Max Martin’s Swedish hit factory.

It ain’t, and for me the extra modicum of focus on killer hooks only brings the band more in line with the sort of classic singles that Lenny Kaye compiled on the first (and still the best) garage-rock compilation Nuggets, with standouts such as “Drive-By Buddy,” “Waiting,” “Do the Vibrate,” and “I Don’t Wanna Go Home” standing with the best the band ever has given us, live or on record.

The Black Lips, Underneath the Rainbow (Vice Music)

Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.

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