Black Lips - Underneath The Rainbow

by Pete Super Rating:8.5 Release Date:2014-03-17

Bratty, snotty, punky, garage-y. They have a full bag of dicks for anyone who doesn't like them to munch on. Blahblahblah. It's a Black Lips review! Oh wait, I forgot, they grew up and made a proper pop album with Mark Ronson. Oh, but they're still those same old rowdy slacker fuckwits right? Please say yes!!

Black Lips seem to have been stuck with the juvenile tag, and have always operated as though they were the house band for a party they were just following. But like a lot of bands that have relied on slack as part of their charm and musical recipe, I always suspected there was something a little more wily lurking below. Maybe it was because 75% of all their records showed off actual songwriting skill.

In 2011 Arabia Mountain was heralded as a breakthrough in the development of said skill and looked at as a “maturing” of these chronic ne'er-do-wells. And while I do mostly agree, I always felt Ronson's mix took a little of the fire out of the band. Too much gating on the drums and too much separation in the tracking. The bells and whistles too felt a bit contrived, it just didn't feel like the spirit of the band that made 2007's Good Bad Not Evil, wherein they asked the question: “O Katrina, why you gotta be so mean?” (So snotty, so punky.) Arabia Mountain certainly had its highlights but I always thought it was a bit torn between the garage pop of 'Family Tree' and the bubblegum of 'Spidey's Curse.' I felt they should have just leaned into the inclination towards the bubblegum. If you're gonna pine for the sound of Phil Spector you might as well go all-in.

Underneath the Rainbow finds a parity in inclination and style and is a more solid effort because of it. The garage, bubblegum, and sheen of hi-tech multi-tracking all come together for a more cohesive musical statement. 'Drive By Buddy' kicks the album off with a shuffling swagger that introduces something of a country-rock element to Black Lips' sound that sticks throughout the record. The band seem to have finally embraced their Southern-ness.

'Smiling' is a great lamentation/celebration of partying too hard and is one of their catchiest songs. This is the most significant testimonial to their development as songwriters; there's an element of self reflection in the lyrics not previously represented. “I don't feel so corny now/ now that the world's turned upside-down/ I'm the boy who thinks it's funny.” This lyric from 'Funny' mixes some sober world-weary awareness in with the flippant humor. There's also more attention paid to melodic vocal interplay as on the Stones circa Sticky Fingers/Exile-esque 'Boys in the Wood'.

Underneath the Rainbow may very well be the sound of a band finding their core sonic identity. It certainly continues the growth found on Arabia Mountain but introduces a new element: consistency. The last three tracks on Underneath the Rainbow especially feel born wholly out of Black Lips' personality and style, not owing a particularly heavy debt to any one influence. The choruses are more anthemic, the swagger more off-the-cuff, the lyrics more personal and heartfelt. Ah, maturity... what rewards you bring.

But, wait, I still run the risk of being puked on at a Black Lips show right? …Oh thank fuck.

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