Rough and ready rock’n’rollers The Black Lips are known for their eclectic stage shows as much for their eclectic mixture of rock, soul and psychedelic musical influences. With more controversy behind them than they could shake a proverbial stick at, the rather demurely titled Underneath the Rainbow may seem to imply that they’ve somewhat mellowed in their old age (they have been together for fifteen years, after all). One listen to the album, and those fears are soon forgotten. It’s full-on, lo-fi rock’n’roll with a welcome, Southern blues twang, with nary an acoustic guitar in sight.
Opening with ‘Drive-By Buddy’, Underneath The Rainbow immediately picks up on the band’s Southern identity. Coming out of Atlanta, Georgia, the country and blues influence raises its head in the tracks twanging guitar riffs and the lyrical fascination with symbols of America, “we’re hanging on a broken T-Bird hood” is a typical example. In a 2012 interview with MTV, the band described the song as sounding “like if Lynyrd Skynyrd was an indie twee band”, and while the end product feels anything but twee, the Southern rock sound is so prominent its positively tangible.
Carrying on from this point, the rest of the album keeps up the pace and energy of this strong opening gambit. ‘Smiling’ has real punk energy; clocking in at just over two minutes long, and with relentless rhythm, it’s a great party track. ‘Make You Mine’ and ‘Dorner Party’ are similarly frantic, their raw production quality really capturing the dynamism of the band’s chaotic, unpredictable live performances. The guitar solos are rougher than a bear’s backside, the rhythms more swinging than a party where you drop your car keys in a bowl on the way in. ‘Justice After All’ has a brilliant opening riff that sets the scene for a rousing, anthemic rock number that would sound even more massive on stage.
If you aren’t a fan of raw, off-the-cuff rock then this probably won’t have a lot to offer. There are very few dynamic changes on the album; rarely do the band take a step back from their aural-assault aesthetic to write anything quieter, or more vulnerable. But that’s not what this album is about; the band’s essence is one of power and spontaneity, not overdubbing and studio retakes.
While at times they stray so close to their influences and contemporaries that they cross the border into pastiche (for instance, ‘Dandelion Dust’, whose buzz-saw bass opening and tambourine percussion could have been lifted wholesale from The Black Keys’ El Camino), for the most part Underneath the Rainbow pays suitable homage to the various genres that inspire them, while still capturing a sound of its own.
It’s the kind of record that grabs you by the scruff of the neck, shakes you until your head is rattling, and then sets you down, disorientated, and wanders off laughing. An absolute riot.
Underneath the Rainbow is released on March 18th via Vice Music.