Underneath the Rainbow is a genius title for the new Black Lips album if you consider the fact that it was co-produced by The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney. Dap Kings’ Tommy Brenneck is also attached, but on their seventh studio album, The Lips appear to be mostly under the guidance of Carney, whose signature fuzz rock duo with Dan Auerbach has produced a number of excellent records throughout the past decade. That The Lips had the opportunity to achieve something as equally great with Carney’s influence is clear.
Underneath the Rainbow is a completely straightforward record in the vein of Good Bad Not Evil, Black Lips fourth studio album, which was released in 2007. It’s a record that adds to Black Lips’ line of good ol’ fashioned, let’s-not-take-this-too-seriously garage rock and provides an undeniably generous dose of good times being had by all. The Lips return to what made them popular to begin with at their instrumental peak but with a very in-demand producer at the helm to help churn out those fun tunes.
And why wouldn’t The Lips go for a back-to-basics approach? The Atlanta-based band took on a more “mature” turn when they released the Mark Ronson-produced Arabia Mountain back in 2011 and embarked on a lengthy Middle East tour, which was documented by the folks at Noisey. It’s been a tiring few years for The Lips, so to hear them back as they used to be on this outing is certainly enjoyable.
So why does Underneath the Rainbow feel a bit stilted? This next round of Lips’ material, while pleasurable, feels like the group’s attempt to please their listeners instead of themselves, making their fancifulness and raucousness feel somewhat forced and flat. There’s no shortage of great-sounding tunes on here — the road trip anthem “Drive-By Buddy;” the bluesy, smokey “Boys In The Wood;” the vibrant “I Don’t Want To Go Home” — but the comparatively more grounded Lips that appeared on Arabia Mountain were actually wilder in their ambition and excitement, with their focus naturally spread across the board — lyrically, instrumentally, and variantly, production-wise — instead of sitting squarely on one aspect or skewed towards a particular producer’s influence.
That Arabia Mountain was a cohesive yet varied record that still contained the signature rambunctiousness of Black Lips was both refreshing and rewarding, which makes the straightforward Underneath the Rainbow seem underwhelming as a follow-up. I don’t suggest that a “serious” Lips means a “better” Lips, but the knowledge that that version of Black Lips exists gives me more thrills than a return to form does.
Underneath the Rainbow is worth a listen for any Black Lips fan based purely on the fact that it contains new material and signifies that the band is ready to hit the stages again to rock your socks off. However, you may be receiving less in the long run. It took them six albums before they were ready to release the helluva-time and fully-rounded Arabia Mountain, so to see them return with just another helluva-time record is simply not enough anymore.
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