Quite a curious, though vaguely welcome, phenomenon in London at the moment, where a few American garage and artpunk bands appear to have been adopted by the sort of fashion scene who normally favour pseudo-transgressive electro over gnarly old rock’n’roll. The belated deification of Les Savy Fav is probably the most obvious manifestation of all this. But the sudden prominence of a sloppy-as-hell garage band from Atlanta is definitely another.
On one level, it’s pretty obvious why Black Lips have been adopted by the Vice crowd (they’re on that mag’s label): basically, they have handsome trucker moustaches, deviant brat humour, and a rep for pissing in each other’s mouths during gigs.
But listening to “Good Bad Not Evil”, their fourth album, again this morning, they seem to have less in common with that crowd, and much more with the scene that briefly slipped into the limelight around 2001, when many British bands briefly toyed with the idea of finding their very own White Stripes.
That hype passed – ruining a few good bands like The Von Bondies in the process. But I suspect that thousands of bands like this continue to flourish on a subterranean level in every urban pocket of the States, oblivious to the possibilities of fame, fortune and not working in second hand record shops that might be offered to them.
One of the more prominent bands from this world in the past two or three years have been The Reigning Sound, and I think that’s what this Black Lips album reminds me of, in places: a distinctly southern, soul-tinged, very very skinny twist on the old “Nuggets” vibe. Black Lips, of course, are necessarily more mischievous – exhibit A being a dorky love song set in New Orleans called, yep, “O Katrina!”. But while they’re clearly snarkier than most of their contemporaries, there’s an exuberance that they share with so many garage bands; a sense that being in a band and playing rock’n’roll is the most uncomplicated thing to do in the world.
A crazy dream, of course, but Black Lips, in their shambolic wise-ass way, are very good at pulling it off. They can also do gris-gris when the mood suits them (on “Veni Vidi Vici”; I have a neat Diplo remix of this kicking around somewhere, too), cornball country (“How Do You Tell A Child That Someone Has Died”, its archness burying the poignancy of real bereavement that inspired the lyrics), High School ramalam (“Bad Kids”) and sundry bits of jagged garage psych that recall, marvellously, The 13th Floor Elevators.
And the hidden track is the best one. But I’m sure you’d have guessed that, right?