Atlanta flower-punks purvey high-grade scuzz-rock
American flower-punks Black Lips are purists when it comes to scuzz, and ‘Good Bad, Not Evil’ is a perfect tapestry of sordid pleasure. These are the kind of scumbags who probably punch each other to sleep over spittoons of moonshine. There may be little new lurking in their sandy garage blues, but this is rock’n’roll, not chemical engineering – progression isn’t an urgent requirement. After all, no-one ever asked Jack White to pick up a synth – and if The Strokes still gave a shit they’d be ripping this off.
It’s the Stripes’ commitment to their aesthetic which is most comparable to Black Lips’ grotty fantasies. On opener ‘I Saw A Ghost Lean’, Cole Alexander’s voice whines like a ghost alongside wire guitars and swaythes of rushing noise pollution, while ‘Step Right Up’ sounds like the song Lou Reed heard before writing ‘Run Run Run’. Similarly, ‘It Feels Alright’ could slip unnoticed on to ‘The Velvet Underground’. It’s not just the sounds that feel ancient, though – ‘Navajo’ sees Cole croon about falling in love with “a little Indian girl”. Yep, there’s no need for PC terminology in this band’s bluster – this is the dumb bleating of a young dude in love, turning up at a door with a hopeful look in his eyes. Their blue-collared naïveté reaches a climax on the spoken-word theatrics of ‘How Do You Tell A Child That Someone Had Died’. This is a band who believe entirely in what they do, be it drinking boots of piss onstage, or fighting their way out of clubs. “We’re bad kids/Ain’t no college grad kids/Living out on the skids/Kids like you and me”, they chime on ‘Bad Kids’’ brilliant Everly Brother’s slacker pastiche.
At their peak, as on the astounding garage of ‘O Katrina’ or the Ennio Morricone spaghetti punk of ‘Cold Hands’ Black Lips are unrivalled producers of furious sleaze rock, with a broad enough palate to match their danger with aspiration. Nonetheless, these are bad boys that have done good, not gone good.