About two-thirds into ‘Hooker Jon’, the opening track to the group’s new record, Black Lips frontman Cole Alexander absently lets off a belch before the rebellious country anthem keeps rolling. It’s a emblematic of the ‘no fucks given’ approach that has come to define this band in their 20-odd-year career so far – and this ninth studio effort shows no signs of change.
The record is bustling with new ideas and golden old ones, and it’s fitting that these Atlanta outlaws have once again stayed true to their original rabble-rousing vision. After all, that’s what most of their country influences did, stick to a winning formula and taking it to the grave. It’s no coincidence that the Black Lips have amassed a cult following with their output over the – a wild old ride from the very start, this is again music for beer-guzzling and saloon scrapping.
There are skeletons of all the country greats buried within the walls of this release, both musically and spiritually, be it on the Willie Nelson-style reflective echo on ‘Chainsaw’ or ‘Holding Me Holding You’, which has thrilling backing music Johnny Cash would call his own. The harmonica-led, strangely emotive song ‘Rumbler’ transports you America’s deep south – and it’s only a silly homage to the infamous G.I Joe action figure.
Despite the sense of chaos, there’s a level of sophistication and poise on show throughout. This record showcases Black Lips in a songwriting prime. “This old middle finger has grown fat and tired from flicking the bird,” sings Alexander on ‘Gentleman’. This band have been around the block and have earned their right to sing with aches and pains. They’ve pulled through the wild days of riots and chickens-on-stage, having grown into something much more honed and mature without sacrificing their rebellious edge. A fitting example would be the Dylan pastiche, ‘Get It On Time’, a track boasting both golden musicianship and vocals.
It can be dodgy terrain for any band to a peddle a similar style and sound two decades into their career – especially when approaching a 10 album – but that’s the last thing Black Lips should be concerned about.
They’re simply masters in their field. It’s convincing from start to finish: this is no act. These garage cowboys remain the real deal and still flaunt the wild charm that made us first fall in love with them. It’s convincing, playful and extremely satisfying.