Atlanta garage-punks refuse to grow up, roping Mark Ronson along for album six.
Alex Deller 2011
It’s a question for any band that cuts their teeth and first few records with guileless, busted-up charm and lower-than-lo-fi production values: what happens when you grow up, move on and don’t have to record things down in the basement in one take while your parents are out?
On the face of it, grubby-cuffed garage scufflers Black Lips have gone about finding out with hell-for-leather gusto on this sixth full-length. They’ve plonked celeb pop producer Mark Ronson (he of Lily Allen, Robbie Williams and Kaiser Chiefs fame/horror) at the helm for what could easily have been a gutlessly over-preened debacle.
Thankfully any cleaning up has been rudimentary at best: a swish under the pits and down below with a damp rag beforehand, a quick wipe off on the curtains after the dirty’s been done. The band either demonstrates a glorious and steadfast refusal to grow up, or become possessed by yelps that no amount of Auto-Tune could ever fix. And they toss in a grab-bag of scrawny guitar parts that’d take an army of furrow-browed Butch Vigs to do right by.
Indeed, the shift’s so slight it mightn’t be perceptible to the casual observer, more an evolutionary tippy-toe which inches from feral Back From the Grave howls towards the slightly more accomplished sonics of Lenny Kaye’s seminal Nuggets compilation. The difference, say, between Little Black Egg and We All Love Peanut Butter or the amount of spit and polish spent on Louie Louie by The Swamp Rats and The Kingsmen.
The thin and scratchy sound is still ostensibly the same (think: a petulant child yelling in frustration as a clatter of sticks are dropped in an empty room), but it’s marginally more controlled, peppered with horns, handclaps and an unobtrusive singing saw and is far more aware of what it wants than 2009’s patchy-but-fun 200 Million Thousand. As with any given Black Lips record there are a smattering of duds (Dumpster Dive’s hokey, honky-tonk plunk and the hunchbacked shuffle of Don’t Mess Up My Baby could both easily have been omitted), but it pays testament to the band’s songwriting nous and sound historical awareness that the best tracks here – Modern Art, Go Out and Get It, New Direction – could have been written at almost any point in the past 45 years.