Seven albums in for Black Lips, Underneath The Rainbow had the potential to fall completely flat. It’s been roughly three years since the last record from the Atlanta flower punks, the longest wait for fans since their inception. We could have heard the stale, aging partygoer incarnation of the band. Thankfully, we’re far from that.
It remains a certainty that the band is, essentially, the same one we fell in love with, though there are moments in Underneath The Rainbow that make you long for their days of fearlessly vomiting and playing with fireworks nude on stage. For example, on the country-tinged track Justice After All, there’s no real hook aside from vocalist Alexander Cole‘s cute cowboy accent on the final line of the chorus that sticks.
The impact of this would be relatively insignificant if it didn’t follow Dorner Party, a hyper-intense track sung by drummer Joe Bradley that apes 2011’s Go Out And Get It by offering rhythm-section muscle as a trade-off for the latter’s gripping conviction. Waiting‘s chorus sounds impatient, even a little bored or — dare I say it? — lazy.
In all three of the above tracks, the intensity of the back-up vocals merely simmer, as if their only function was to shadow the lead, instead of bringing a new life or injecting more energy into the tune, as we’ve heard in previous Black Lips tunes.
The batting rate for alright-to-excellent tunes on Underneath The Rainbow is impressive, though. Smiling‘s hooks are concise, the juvenile swampiness of I Don’t Wanna Go Home is refreshing, while Do The Vibrate is dirty in all aspects of the word.
There’s still some touches of Black Lips magic too. First single Boys In The Hood feels like a natural progression for the band. It’s a slower track that keeps its energy intact with Cole’s ratty, whisky-soaked vocals smelling like a night of cigarettes and wildness. Here, the backing vocals create enough kinetic energy to start a riot.
Funny sees the bands add a bouncing synth to the mix to complement the stomp. It puts the Black Lips head-to-head with the UV Race in sonic chaos, though the screamed line “come suck some milk from my titties” may inch the Lips a nose ahead. On album closer Dog Years, the play between the shining guitars and the distinct woos brings a poppy, Dandy Warhols vibe. The lyrics here are infectious, and halfway through the song Cole lapses into a stoned talkiness, narrating a scene that plays out like a desert mirage.
Simply put, Underneath The Rainbow contains a few lacklustre, tired-sounding tunes, some middling songs that are a bit more than just filler, and a handful of truly amazing tracks that are inspired. Unfortunately, with this record, moreso than previous efforts, it’s the lack of energy on the weaker tracks that tends to stand out, if only because it reminds us that they have produced so much better.
‘Underneath The Rainbow’ is released this Friday, 17th March, via Vice Records.