Black Lips - Good Bad Not Evil (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Black Lips

Good Bad Not Evil (2007)


Of course we were right to be wary of Vice. While not technically a major label (in fact, I think they lost their major backing earlier this year), they've definitely set themselves up for suspicion. Let's remember that this is a brand offshoot of a smarmy indie lifestyle magazine. For the Black Lips to take their rising star from the unquestionable grassroots of In the Red and the hallowed halls of Bomp to such a home is cause for concern. The live LP that launched their Vice career was no help. Oh, Los Valentes del Mundo Nuevo was excellent, don't get me wrong. You should own it. However, it mined the best material from the ITR and Bomp days and played them for maximum chaotic effect. John Reis produced the bloody thing. It was almost too good. It was either meant to ease the transition or document that pre-Vice band before the fall. Good records shouldn't make one more wary, but this one did. So now that the veil's been lifted on Good Bad Not Evil, what's the verdict? If Vice has afforded the band anything, it's the opportunity to pull off some creative promotional stunts. The higher profile has had zero negative effect on the band's sound. Thank heavens.

There's a pretty clear trajectory to the Lips catalog, and Good Bad Not Evil fits the pattern well. With each record the band's cleaned things up, trading off a few layers of garage distortion for better songwriting. It's not a compromise by any means, but they've come to rely on different strengths. This isn't a band that needs to fall back on Stooges-styled feedback and shocking stage antics; not anymore. As their songwriting continues to tighten we're seeing a few less few weird-for-the-sake-it diversions and more experiments with genre and structure. The album opening "Lean" feels familiar. It puts its head down and digs into a garage groove with some messy-by-design bridges that fans of Forest Spirit will certainly dig. However, it's "Katrina" that really defines today's Black Lips. The pop hooks seem almost too obvious, but they work so well against the band's raw production and twisted lyrical content. The Lips are at their best playing the lo-fi pop-punk card, keeping their tempos fast and the songs as concise as possible. "Bad Kids" and "Cold Hands" are shining examples. Much of it is lyrically blunt, but cleverly so. There's a fun dumbness to the Black Lips that isn't quite an attempt at irony, but it's definitely something the band strives for.

Regardless of how well they do it, the band's attention span is far too short to lock them into one approach. For the most part the album's diversions are quirky and odd but they never really over-stay their welcome. The country ballad "How Do You Tell a Child That Someone Has Died" is the biggest departure, but its length keeps the novelty in check. The bluesy "Lock and Key" that precedes it is much more the band's style. "Veni Vidi Vici" is a cool little psychedelic number and one of the record's most interesting compositions. Between it and the jangling Nuggets guitar work of "It Feels Alright," there's no question what the late Greg Shaw saw in these guys. Wherever they're go, this is a Bomp band at their core. "Navajo" bears mentioning as the most infuriatingly catchy song this year. Things even get folky with "Trancendental Light." Yet for all its various diversions, Good Bad Not Evil is a fairly fluid listen. The Lips have always been a fairly loose band, so it's hardly disruptive and quite a pleasure when they zig rather than zag. That's true song to song. That's true album to album.