Friday, September 7, 2007

Black Lips - Good Bad Not Evil

Good Bad Not Evil is Black Lips' first studio album for glossy hipster label Vice Records and their fourth (studio album) altogether. Were the band famous for their albums and not the infamous live shows that their audience craved, this album might be a test for that audience, as the group's now dabbling outside of its usual bluesy garage bubble. Personally, I like living in that bubble, so the first few listens were in fact a slight test.

The humor mostly remains while a good portion of the sloppy DIY mentality is laid to rest. Highly distorted, cheap production has given way to complete clarity, meaning there are now audible voices and lyrics to consider, and for old fans who do live in the garage bubble, this is a bottom-heavy record with user-friendly assumed singles placed early on. Musically, opener "I Saw a Ghost (Lean)" is one of the more exciting tracks on the album, while "O Katrina!" - yes, inspired by the hurricane - is a live highlight for its harmonized wails and growls. But this recording of "O Katrina!" lacks some of the urgency of, say, any live rendition, as its chorus is sung rather than hollered, and “Veni Vidi Vici,” even with the “All y'all” choruses that perfectly match the grill on guitarist Ian St. Pe, is a straight up pop song that somehow doesn't belong.

On one hand, Black Lips no longer remain a generic garage rock band – this release isn't just another in an unvarying, reliable line, though there are fuzzy drum rolls (“I Saw a Ghost”), bluesy bass lines (“Lock and Key”), and '50s harmonies (“Bad Kids”) as expected. But for anyone who's followed their work with Bomp! and come to appreciate the rough, live quality of early albums, this release feels somewhat like a hipster's novelty record that's aware of its ironic appeal. There are a couple of songs inspired by real deaths; "Transcendental Light" is the most serious the band has been to date, while country ballad “How Do You Tell a Child that Someone Has Died” is as much of a downer on paper though ambiguously humorous in delivery. Is it novelty, or is it a desire to spill emotion with a fear of being openly emotional? The men of Black Lips aren't the teenagers they once were, and people are free to change, but it seems like they want to mature without letting down their fan base, so they're attempting to compromise by focusing more on lyrics but delivering like that "death is sad" bit is a quasi-joke.

In any case, Black Lips is a live band, and though this is definitely a transition that will suit a different audience than the band's ever had, it'll suit a larger audience, and it's nice to see that they're really getting noticed and have the option to experiment in the first place.

Black Lips - O Katrina!

Black Lips - Step Right Up

Purchase Good Bad Not Evil (available Sept. 11)

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