When the first impression you have of a band is a visual of its members urinating into their own mouths, the music almost becomes irrelevant. The Black Lips are renowned for their uninhibited onstage antics, ranging from passionate makeout sessions to inventive experimentation with an array of bodily functions. Publicity-grubbing shock art? Maybe. But it would be a grave mistake to dismiss the Atlanta quartet on this basis, since those willing to trudge knee deep in shit, vom and piss will uncover one of the most honest and intriguing records of the year.
Good Bad Not Evil is the Black Lips’ fourth studio album, and their first official UK outing. At just 35 minutes in total and with just one track exceeding the three minute mark, the record is a grotty mess of a quickie which nevertheless gets the job done. The album frankly reveals the Black Lips as an intensely raw pseudo-garage band with an ironic twist – think a 2007 version of The Stooges. There is no pretension, no naval-gazing, and definitely no foreplay. Opener I Saw a Ghost (Lean) is about tripping on acid and not much more. Point taken.
The boys are at their best when they are maniacally banging out piercing, upbeat tunes in true basement band fashion. First single O Katrina! is an instant winner, and the touchy subject matter has little, if anything, to do with the tracks’ standout nature. Rather than jumping on the now-hackneyed politically satirical lyric bandwagon (Green Day, we’re looking at you), this catchy gem simply and accurately recharacterises the deadly Hurricane as the meanie responsible for our collective achy breaky hearts.
The lyrics are deliberately asinine without sounding like they’re taking the piss (“Oh Katrina why you gotta be mean/ You broke my heart way down in New Orleans”), leaving room for the listener to draw political inferences if desired. Cold Hands is sleaze punk at its best. This agitating, ferocious track is pretty fantastic for a song that’s admittedly “about nothing” according to the boys. In the same vein, power-poppish Bad Kids is poised to become a light-hearted anthem for teenage fuckups.
Despite the fact that the garage sound definitely works for them, the guys have continually demonstrated their aversion towards being dubbed a ‘garage band’, proclaiming that they’re much more than that. And they have a point, since the prevailing fiery tunes on Good Bad not Evil are interspersed with more subtle and thoughtful tracks. Bluesy Veni Vidi Vici is ominous without being proselytising, and sounds different but not out of place. The boys also have a demonstrable sense of humour, evident by Navajo and the waltzy How Do You Tell a Child that Someone has Died.
However, when one considers the band’s bleak history (their original lead guitarist died in a car crash just before their first record debut, and guitarist Ian St Pe later discovered his mother’s dead body), the deliberately sophomoric undertones pervading the album are instantly interpretable as a defence mechanism. There is much more brewing beneath the surface than the boys will have you believe, and a richly interesting subtext becomes evident pursuant to repeated listens.
That’s not to say the album is filler-free. It Feels Alright and Step Right Up are sublimated by the other more memorable tracks. The production is also deliberately unsophisticated, which may be off-putting to some. However, any perceived inadequacies are overshadowed by the fact that taken as a whole, Good Bad Not Evil is a brilliant body of work.
Having signed with Vice Records earlier this year, things are looking up for The Black Lips. If Good Bad Not Evil is anything to go by, we may have a new Strokes or White Stripes in the making, and the millionth ‘for reals’ Rock Super-revival may be right around the corner. So forget the urinary acrobatics and give these messed up, skanky scuzzbuckets (in the most complimentary way possible) the chance they deserve. Obviously, they’re not going to give a flying fuck, but you should.