The Black Lips have experimented with too many forms of popular music to be considered strictly a garage-rock band at this point.
After forming in 1999, the Atlanta five-piece has built a cult following thanks to its members' batshit insane onstage antics and extraordinarily scuzzy musical output. They've put out a couple of classic records — 2005's Let It Bloom and 2007's Good Bad Not Evil — and have alternatively been punks, pop-rockers, and country balladeers, all while maintaining the same middle-finger-up attitude.
For all of the consistency in their output, the same can't be said for their lineup: Guitarist Cole Alexander and bassist Jared Swilley are the only original members who've been around since the Black Lips' wild early days. The two have come a long way from the fuzz-box-abusing maniacs who debuted with Black Lips! in 2003, and their growth as musicians — however unconventional — is readily apparent on the singles from the band's latest studio effort, Sing in a World That's Falling Apart.
The new record is set to be officially released Friday, January 24, and as fate would have it, the Black Lips will be in Miami that very same day. The band is scheduled to perform at the Ground, where they'll be joined by supporting acts Plastic Pinks and Palomino Blond, as well as Danny Kokomo of Jacuzzi Boys fame, who'll be on the ones and twos to provide a DJ set.
Because it's the Black Lips, what we've heard of Sing in a World That's Falling Apart thus far keeps a wry tongue even as the band finds itself veering into more overtly country territory. This isn't a pop album bursting at the seams with stilted Southern accents singing about cutoff jeans; it's a raucous collection of seedy country music and good-time rock 'n' roll designed for barroom sing-alongs. On the boot-stomping opening track, "Hooker Jon," listeners are treated to a chorus that goes, "She thinks that I'm a hooker/She thinks that I'm a John." Make of that what you will.
The songs shared from the new LP, the Black Lips' ninth such effort, carry a unifying sardonic tone, with lyrics lingering over the less savory aspects of humanity and modern living. "Gentleman" has already marked itself as a standout, an anthem written from the perspective of a seedy barfly who's "tired of being rude/Ticked off, drunk and crude." The song's opening verse could be interpreted as commentary on the toxic nature of current public discourse: "This old middle finger has grown fat and tired from flickin' the bird/My mouth has grown cankerous from spitting dirty words."
Given the Black Lips' history of flipping birds of their own, there's no reason the song couldn't be interpreted as something of a confessional as well.
Elements of classic and old-time rock 'n' roll interweave throughout the band's fresh material. The Rolling Stones are evoked on "Get It On Time," and the Lips bust out an Elvis-like shuffle on "Dishonest Men." That brings up a somewhat incongruous aspect of this album that’s mentioned in the band's promotional materials: "Have they made a record their parents could listen to?"
After decades of playing fast and messy, lighting guitars on fire, and literally puking onstage, the Black Lips may have grown up, if only a little. But part of maturity is becoming less selfish and small-minded: If you listen to the songs on Sing in a World That's Falling Apart closely, you might glimpse the sort of wisdom that only comes with years of hard living. The record stands to be an indictment of the pervasive nastiness that's defining our current cultural moment, and despite the unlikely nature of the messenger, it's exactly what we all need to hear right now.
The Black Lips. With Plastic Pinks, Palomino Blond, and Danny Kokomo of Jacuzzi Boys. 7 p.m. Friday, January 24, at the Ground, 34 NE 11th St., 305-375-0001; thegroundmiami.com. Tickets cost $18 to $20 via eventbrite.com.
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