Like many I suppose my relationship with Black Lips has been fraught. The band’s always hand a sneer that’s both admirable (their ability to not give a damn about the winds of trend) and irritating (knocking out songs that feel like they coulda baked a minute longer). There’s an irreverence to their humor that skirts juvenile jabs, but it’s a good-natured poke to the ribs. Even when trying to put on a scrappy, dangerous garage guise, the Lips don’t really wish you ill. They’ll pick you up after shoving you to the ground. Aesthetically, their last record seemed to sap the last ounce of steam out of the sandpaper-piped garage that they’d been hounding for the past decade, so good news descends as the band has been born anew beyond the veil of country-rock. The gamble works and the twang sits well in their wheelhouse.
They add a roadhouse grit to the genre, melding their snide asides with the forlorn tales of hard luck, hard living, and hard liquor. It’s not a baptism in the genre but they’re definitely having as much of a dalliance as The Stones ever had. The Lips have always had a hardscrabble heart, now they’re just letting it bleed a bit more Tennessee Whiskey. Some of the renewed sheen might have something to do with Laurel Canyon vet Nic Jodoin at the board. With the exception of their Mark Ronson steered 2011 breakout, the band has often let the layers of sound fall by the wayside, preferring impact over subtlety, but Sing In A World That’s Falling Apart doesn’t just twang the guitar, it adopts the studio slick of their influences as well.
Lonesome harmonica pulls at the heartstrings, even when the song’s about a rogue GI Joe. Pedal steel soaks up the beer from the bar, sax squawks bump the jukebox, and Cole Alexander’s never sounded so buttoned up (but ready to rumple should the opportunity arise). While its nice to keep scratching the same itch, eventually that leads to lesions, so its nice to see the Lips swivel and shine. Country-rock’s a tried and true midlife dabble for a band, but nailing it takes more than a whim as they prove here.
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