The Black Lips Good Bad Not Evil

[Vice; 2007]

Styles: filth-laden guitar rock sugarcoated in ancient ‘60s melodic goodness.
Others: Dirtbombs, The Ponys, Dwarves, Brian Jonestown Massacre

Here’s a toast to oversimplification! The Black Lips understand the concept as well as anyone. One listen to their tunes, specifically those on their "proper" studio debut Good Bad Not Evil, would assure anyone of that. Just check the lyrical response to the question posed in the title of the song “How Do You Tell a Child that Someone Has Died?” which warbles out as, “I’ve tried to tell him/ Lord knows I’ve tried/ But any way you break it/ You’ll just make him cry.” Or better yet, try the sentiments from the lads’ post-hurricane New Orleans ballad: “Oh Katrina/ Why you gotta be mean?” Who am I kidding? These are the most philosophical and astute questions a crusty band like The Lips have ever played around with. Good Bad Not Evil doesn’t have to be overly thoughtful to accomplish the noble goal of creating breakneck, dirty rock ‘n’ roll. The boys in the band demonstrate this by making their finest album to date and then taking a cue from their stage act and throwing up all over it. It couldn’t be this good if they were wearing bibs.

The Atlanta-based musicians have been chugging away for years in the underground, releasing three lo-fi full-lengths and various seven-inches in the interim before being discovered. Known for their moustaches, vomit, and homoerotic antics on stage, the energy the band constantly has on display takes a decidedly different form on record. It’s fuzzy, garbled, and for some a bit hard to get into. Regardless, The Black Lips flourish as a live band. Crowned the "Hardest Working Band at SXSW" by The New York Times this year, it's become clear that the band was being primed to break out in a big way. Now, with the general public taking notice and after signing to Vice Records, The Black Lips have their chance to blow minds and speakers on a relatively more mass scale. Thankfully, they use this chance as an opportunity to experiment and artistically grow on Good Bad Not Evil. Here’s an example of a band given a budget and studio time, yet choose to keep using the the lowest fidelity possible, forgoing any slick or glossy production values. The Black Lips are the vintage, genuine artifact no matter which course they choose to ride their style of rock ‘n’ roll down. The jump to a label hasn’t affected their resolve or ceaseless working spirit in the least, and it couldn’t be a bigger relief.

Good Bad Not Evil covers a wide range of territory, but never feels needlessly eclectic. Every stylistic experiment employed over the 35-minute runtime is a welcome departure from their signature slime rock. The most notable occurrence is the prevalence of bluesy guitar licks. The Black Lips have been shamelessly flirting with the blues for awhile now, and songs like the lovely and surprisingly tender “Transcendental Light” find them fully embracing the sound. “It Feels Alright” is a clear-coasting Dirtbombs homage that’s every bit as promising as that designation would hint at, while the trippy Native American jingle “Navajo” avoids being completely racist and winds up as a playful and spirited jaunt through a tee-pee romance. Songs like “Lean,” “Cold Hands,” and “Bad Kids” are essentially classic Lips tracks. “Lean” sounds like the warbling of a sloppy drunk supported by his competent band, sonically falling somewhere between Mark E. Smith singing at a barbecue or a birthday party. “Bad Kids” is a bouncy, youthful, autobiographical sing-a-long about mischief played at about half-speed in comparison to its live rendition. And “Cold Hands” is a twangy straight shooter featuring a slick surf-rock guitar solo.

And then consider the aforementioned “Katrina.” This track is one of the catchiest songs the band has cranked out and a live staple for quite some time now. It heralds the fact that the boys are right on the cusp of breaking out and could easily attain it with a few more guitar licks. But Good Bad Not Evil might not be the album to do it for them, because for all its charms, it's still a bit jarring and alienating for those not willing to make the wild jumps across styles with the band. It would be unfortunate if that were the case, because people would be missing out on something special. And this is music meant for beer swilling, vomiting, and making out en masse.

Most Read