Underneath the Rainbow is the first full-length album from the Atlanta-based Black Lips in three years, a record more Southern in its focus but with all the crude and madcap energy that listeners have come to expect from the garage-psych rockers since their formation in 1999.
For this album, the band’s ‘main influences [were] pretty traditional’, bassist Jared Swilley told Rolling Stone, ‘it’s roots music’. Traditional in certain circles perhaps, Lyrnyrd Skynyrd are one group to whom Black Lips pay homage on Underneath the Rainbow, citing the country rock luminaries, along with ‘doing bathtub drugs and drinking bathtub gin’, as an inspiration behind the track Boys in the Woods. And the influence is clear, from the almost stadium-esque vocal largeness to the guitars – ‘barbed with a prairie twang’, as Truman Capote might put it. The swagger of the opening track Drive-By Buddy also recalls equally prominent rock’n’rollers The Rolling Stones – some of their more honky tonk sounding work anyway.
Despite the band’s statements, though, Underneath the Rainbow could hardly be considered a country or roots album. It is Black Lips at their reckless and melodious psychedelic punk best, with a Southern inflection – like Richard Hell in spurs and a Stetson hat.
The highlights on this one, for me, include Smiling – an upbeat track that is in a way rather sweet, which is perhaps strange given it’s about Jared Swilley’s short stint in prison last year – and Funny, with its rambunctious hook and bawdy humour – ‘Come suck some milk from my titties!’, the vocalist spits. Other particularly impressive moments include the peppy bluesiness of Justice After All, the almost psychobilly feel of Do the Vibrate, and the throbbing, threatening pulse of Dandelion Dust.
Yet unmentioned is the quality of the names behind the music – involved in the process, apart from Black Lips’ recording collaborator, Ed Rawls, were Tommy Brenneck, musical director for the Dap-Kings; Patrick Carney, producer for The Black Keys; and the Grammy award winning mixer, Jimmy Douglas. Despite the class of the recording team, Underneath the Rainbow maintains the Black Lips’ characteristic hard-edged, lo-fi sound, and perhaps keeping things sounding under-produced was half the skill in producing this one. Regardless, Black Lips’ skill in songwriting shines on this record, and as far as garage rock goes – it doesn’t come better.