Black Lips - Los Valentes del Mundo Nuevo (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Black Lips

Los Valentes del Mundo Nuevo (2007)


While on the surface a stopgap between Let It Bloom and whatever's arriving this September, this live album will prove remarkably important to the Black Lips when their story's finally written. It's the bridge between the Atlanta band's status as a critically acclaimed underground act and whatever spectacular success or failure awaits them. Vice may not be in the business of breeding chart-toppers, but they certainly have the influence to attract mainstream attention. With everyone from Rolling Stone to The New York Times suddenly singing their praises the wider musical world will, for better or worse, pay attention to the next Black Lips record. This looming studio album is, for all intents and purposes, a major label debut. Whether Vice technically qualifies as a major or not is irrelevant (and simply a matter of how wide you cast the net), but suffice to say they're of a different breed than In the Red and Bomp.

Los Valentes del Mundo Nuevo is thus a time capsule, an effort to capture the band as they were before reality devours and regurgitates their image and reputation. Everything about this album plays to that, from the setting of a rowdy party in Tijuana to the song choices. What better way to present the chaos than by leading with the barely comprehensible "MIA." The band howls and screams their way though the Forest Spirit track, with Drive Like Jehu / Rocket From the Crypt's John Reis giving his best Swami garage treatment to the work. Yet on the second track the dilemma of the Black Lips is brought to light. "Boomerang" is a fantastic song, one of the highlights of the excellent Let It Bloom. In under two minutes it captures the band's bridge between psychedelic Nuggets garage rock and distorted Stooges-bred self-destruction. The problem is that at some point the Black Lips started writing absolutely amazing songs, tuneful, timeless rock songs that revel in their brevity and tease with perfect little pop hooks. That skill betrays their reputation as a vulgar, nihilistic live act. You can't have both worlds -- and the Black Lips, circa now, are trying their hardest to maintain that.

Mind you I've done the test to prove this. I've brought someone completely oblivious to the band's existence to a live show and they were blown away not by their antics but by the songs. They make "if only..." comments about the band's sound, imagining cleaner recordings, higher fidelity and the presumed greatness that would follow.

Of course that forces on the band the impossible task of maintaining the legend, yet growing from it. If I had to wager a guess it's probably more fulfilling to write and record great songs than maintain the lunatic guise. Los Valentes del Mundo Nuevo captures the band on the cusp of that change. You can hear early, stylish Rolling Stones bleeding through songs like "Sea of Blasphemy," "Dirty Hands," "Fairy Stories" and especially "Buried Alive." "Stranger" and "Not a Problem" demand attention like `77 punk anthems. Despite running haphazard through their songs in front of what sounds like an absolutely insane crowd, that fact that they've (if as by accident) become a great band holds it all together.

This record's as much a collection of greatest hits as it's a collection of evidence. It's something for the band and their fans to cling to as proof that, at least for a while, the Black Lips brilliantly walked that tightrope.