Underneath the Rainbow
Mar 17, 2014 Issue #49 - February/March 2014 - Portlandia
Whether hailed as the godfathers of a new generation of rock 'n' roll rebels (you know, because of the peeing, nudity, fighting, drugs, and general chaos) or dismissed as talentless fuckups (you know, because these songs ain't rocket science), Black Lips have never lacked in their ability to draw a second look during their long, head-scratchingly successful career. This remains the case on their seventh studio effort, Underneath the Rainbow.
Following up 2011's Mark Ronson-produced Arabia Mountain, the Lips continue to clean things up, this time with The Black Keys' Patrick Carney on board as co-producer. Expectedly, the once-beloved kings of the underground have been labeled with the ubiquitous, yet meaningless, pejorative of "sell-outs." Sure, the songs have gotten cleaner, the producers more famous and the live shows less, well, biohazardous, but the fact is that Black Lips have become a better band both in the studio and on the stage. Selling out sounds a lot more like growing up.
In contrast to their freewheeling aesthetic, almost every track on Rainbow follows the verse-chorus format and hits heavy with hooks. Opener "Drive-By Buddy" plays off a Tennessee Two-esque country lick, while Cole Alexander howls about "hanging off a broken T-Bird hood" before breaking into a, dare I say, radio-friendly chorus. The catchiness continues on the pop-punk of Jared Swilley's "Smiling," Ian St. Pé's breezy "Make Me Mine," which motors on like The Velvet's "Lonesome Cowboy Bill," and the rootsy rock of "Boys in the Wood," which seems to have Carney's stamp all over it.
Things take a weirder turn on "Dorner Party," with a fuzzy, menacing riff under Joe Bradley's take on the disgruntled ex-cop, and the swampy garage of "Do the Vibrate," about masturbating with a buzzing cell phone. Swilley's "I Don't Wanna Go Home" is an irresistible Ramones-injected look at going crazy on the road, and album-closer "Dog Years" is Alexander's oddball love song to a Virginia Slims menthol-puffing party goddess. It's sweet, a little creepy and oddly endearing—not dissimilar to the band itself.
Rainbow isn't the band's best record—that would be 2007's near-perfect Good Bad Not Evil—but it is still a damn good one, immensely listenable and accessible, while just left enough of center to keep things interesting. (www.black-lips.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
Average reader rating: 5/10