The Black Lips: Wickedly Good
by Alison Ross
The Black Lips have performed a musical miracle: The quartet manages to sound as though it hijacked a time machine to the 50s and 60s, shoplifted some soulful, sprightly harmonies and bluesy guitar licks, and on the way back, made a stop in the 80s to burglarize the hardcore punk ethic. When the Lips returned to its modern niche, the band fused those somewhat disparate styles to forge an exhiliratingly original signature sound that conjures a magical nostalgia. “Flower punk” is how the Black Lips brand their sound, and I think that’s a pretty apt description. The Black Lips sound more 60s than the 60s themselves.
The band’s latest CD, “Good Bad Not Evil,” performs another miracle - it manages to rival the grimy brilliance of “Let it Bloom.” The new CD is more diverse genre-wise, swirling hues of rockabilly, blues, country, doo-wop, sock-hop, shoe-gazer, and psychedelia onto its palette. “Good Bad Not Evil” is a bubbling melting pot of sonic styles, and yet somehow, it sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard. It’s a mishmash of musical fashions rolled into one fun and funky get-up.
The lead song, the rockabilly stomp, “ I Saw a Ghost (Lean)” sets up a fierce tone for the album, but the mood is soon buoyed by danceable pop-punk numbers like “O Katrina!”. There are also the usual comedic flourishes , delivered via songs like “Navajo,” (which has proven to be a bit controversial among fans with its ambiguous, politically incorrect lyrics), as well as sinuous surf-rock by way of the album’s searing single, “Cold Hands.” The album even contains a dreamy Americana-style ballad, which is to-date unmined territory for the fearsome foursome.
The production on “Good Bad Not Evil” is cleaner than on “Let it Bloom,” which featured a jarringly distorted mix that lent the album its exquisitely antique Stooges-esque feel. However, despite the clearer sound, the band retains a certain ragged, scratchy aesthetic that endears the band to so many craving that vintage vibe. The difference between “Let it Bloom” and “Good Bad Not Evil” is that on the latter, the songs can breathe a bit more, and not be so suffocated by shrouds of fuzz.
The only major flaw in the album seems to be the westernized ”How Do you Tell at Child That Someone Has Died?” Though catchy, the song is too obvious, too pandering of a parody, and the lyrics are ludicrous. Granted, they’re meant to be, but a little nuance goes a long way toward mitigating the patently inane.
Overall, however, “Good Bad Not Evil” is an infectiously groovy album by a wickedly inventive band.