Last week, Black Lips released their seventh studio album, and their first since the 2011 Arabia Mountain. Which was their first album to ever truly leap outside of their comfort zone. An album in which some fans chastised due to the fact that they brought on a “refined” producer such as Mark Ronson to help clean things up. I personally loved the album, and although it was a venture from their more underproduced, tinny, garage sound on early greats such as Black Lips! and Let It Bloom, it showed that they could still carry the grittiness and feel of their early punk influences into a new realm of produced punk. Underneath the Rainbow pushes the Lips deeper into unknown territory, bringing on a very seductive southern style that almost delves into full-on rockabilly at some points. And the result is fantastic.
Before we dive in too far, I want to back up just a bit. I understand that when bands change their sound, or move into new territory, it is hard for the ol’ die hards to simply be okay with the change. But the fact of the matter is, that if the quality of the overall product doesn’t decrease or become cheap, there is no reason to be upset over such an issue. Black Lips have not “sold out” by picking up producers like Mark Ronson or the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney. They are simply evolving, as every band should. No band can maintain the exact sound for an entire career and be successful. Black Lips have done a good job of slowly building their sound with every album since Good Bad, Not Evil. Underneath the Rainbow is just another example of this.
The Lips have always had an interesting repertoire of different influences in their work. Obviously garage punk, but also bits of surf rock, hip hop, blues rock, and even some glimpses of Indian influence. Now they have opened up a new door by fusing that same old punk-ass vibe with a more southern rock sound. Bringing about an entirely new grit to these animals.
Don’t get me wrong, they are still the same crass idiots, spouting lyrics like “come suck some milk from my titties” in the bluesier “Funny”, and also sing about getting arrested for “going too far” and the jail experience that follows in the fun pop-punk track “Smiling”, that also features some great guitar interplay. The lead single “Boys in the Wood” is purely about some dudes getting drunk and beating the shit out of each other in the woods, but is set to the tune of the most slow paced track on the album. As it creeps along to what sounds like a Lynyrd Skynyrd/Stooges love child, it builds into an explosion of noisy guitars and horns. It also brought about one of the most crazy music videos I’ve seen in a while.
So their spirit is still there, the music just has more intricate guitar parts and more of a country influence than ever. At times, if you only focus on the guitar, it even sounds like they were directly ripping licks from a Buddy Holly or a Johnny Cash rockabilly record. And let us get real for a moment, these guys were very much the “punks” of their time. Rockabilly was always a major stepping stone for the evolution punk music in the 70’s, so it is great when you see it come full circle.
You can certainly feel the differences in Carney’s production style versus Tom Brenneck’s. Especially if you are a Black Keys fan. Carney seems to try and lock the Lips into their earlier song structures at times (“Waiting, “Dorner Party”), but also ties in more of an elaborate production style and thicker guitars found mostly in songs like “I Don’t Wanna Go Home” and “Dandelion Dust”, that are at times almost similar to the later 70’s rock stylings that the Keys have been obsessed with lately. Where as Brenneck explores new sides of the Lips, more intricate guitar, and much more of that rockabilly influence. Both styles work well in my opinion. Although it is tough to not favor more of Brenneck’s tracks over Carney’s, both play very well with each other overall.
Underneath the Rainbow is the shortest album the Lips have put out in ten years, but short can certainly be sweet. It is fun and rowdy album, and a nice cheers to some of punk’s earliest influences. The Black Lips pull off this southern/rootsy feel very well, and I am glad to see them continue into evolve.
Can’t Miss: “Drive By Buddy”, “Smiling”, “Boys in the Wood”, “Funny”, “Waiting”
Can’t Hit: None