This being Black Lips' seventh full-length record, it’d probably be a bit daft to expect anything particularly ground-breaking from the Atlanta quartet at this point. What I would be looking for, though, is some of the crackle and fizz that's been their calling card since forming back in 1999; a little of the energy that buzzed through the excellent Good Bad Not Evil, for instance, and some of the punk attitude that’s permeated most of their recorded output to date.
Underneath the Rainbow is the band's first new record in three years, although for some reason it feels like it’s been longer; last set Arabia Mountain was, for the most part, the sound of the band treading water. I suppose they’ve arrived at a bit of a crossroads; this far down the line, they’ve enough of an established fanbase that there shouldn’t be any problem with them sticking to what they know, but you can’t help but feel that, if there's any actual point in them continuing to put out new records they might at least think about trying doing things a bit differently.
It’s perfectly possible that you’ve heard this album by now; it’s been available to stream in full over on the NME website, where it's mentioned that bassist Jared Swilley reckons it sounds like 'the Fonz fucking a monkey while riding a motorcycle into the sun', having apparently contracted that particular strain of verbal diarrhea that strikes musicians only when they’re speaking to the NME. Sure enough, you’re likely to be disappointed if you take that as an indication that Underneath the Rainbow is a radical departure; that same clutch of influences is evident right from the kickoff. 'Drive-By Buddy' is very Sixties, with an early Stones-y riff that impinges upon 'The Last Time’s sovereignty far more than 'Bittersweet Symphony' ever did.
This is a relatively straightforward run-through the garage-punk side of Black Lips; there’s little nods to their past psychedelic leanings - squeaky synths on 'Funny', the squelchy bass of 'I Don’t Wanna Go Home' - but for the most part, the 12 quick-fire tracks are largely typical guitar outings. 'Make You Mine' and “Justice After All', both unremarkable, buzz along inconsequentially, whilst 'Dorner Party' and the menacing 'Do the Vibrate' - bound to be plenty energetic live - breeze by in lightweight fashion.
The tracks that do hit home are the ones that break the standard issue garage mould; 'Boys in the Wood' is a real highlight, a bluesy stomper with some fabulously bolshy brass accompaniment. There’s a similar strut to 'Dandelion Dust' - think of the raw, back-to-basics approach of pre-mainstream Black Keys, paired with the playful attitude of their post-Brothers output - and it’s pleasing to hear the band give themselves a little bit of room to breathe on 'Waiting', an irresistible ode to a lifetime’s worth of disobedience that sees a neat late payoff, in the form of a short sharp shock of a climactic guitar solo.
For the most part Underneath the Rainbow lacks the acerbic wit that has underscored so much previous Lips material; there’s a handful of tracks here that really are sorely lacking in character, and that’s not traditionally an easy accusation to level at the band that gave us, say, 'Bad Kids', as well as no end of incendiary live shows. Perhaps that’s why the album feels pretty half-baked; musically, it delivers more of the same in accomplished fashion but we’ve come to expect so much more in the way of personality from Black Lips than we get on this record.
5Joe Goggins's Score