"Cops'll smell your fingers," says Black Lips drummer Joe Bradley about the difficulty of staying out of trouble while on tour in Mexico. He should know. His volcanic Atlanta band documented a blowout show of theirs in Tijuana for the live album Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, released earlier this year.
"There's actually a vital scene in Mexico, not that you'd know it," Bradley quips. Black Lips had played previously in Mexicali, but after a powwow with their new bosses at Vice Records, Tijuana was chosen for the sweaty setting of the live album.
And they've managed to squeeze in one more album before 2007 ends. Their fourth studio showing in as many years, Good Bad Not Evil may be the best garage record since White Blood Cells. Country, psych and blues are chewed up and spit out again as gritty punk, every song blessed with rickety hooks, a swaggering rhythm section, Cole Alexander's frazzled singalongs, and an aroma of smoke and reverb.
Black Lips call their sound "flower punk," but that's only because they don't trust rock critics to handle the describing. "It's got a lot to do with your line of work," says Bradley, plainly. "Journalists would give us the most ridiculous titles, like 'blues country.' So we just decide to call ourselves something. It's like we're too hippie to be punk and too punk to be hippie, or something like that."
Coming out of Georgia and marauding through bygone genres has also earned Black Lips a misplaced reputation for playing Southern rock. Again, Bradley is wary of such tags. "Well, Southern rock & roll is [basically a mix of] country, blues, and rock & roll. The other three guys are big fans of that. I don't know. I wouldn't really call us Southern rock."
Truth be told, Good Bad Not Evil is all over the place, between the incandescent psych of "Veni Vidi Vici," the murder-ballad stomp of "Lock and Key," the Velvet Underground-damaged garage of "Step Right Up," the bristling jangle of "Cold Hands," and the freaky rave-up that is "Slime and Oxygen." Some songs make Alexander out to be a dead ringer for Lou Reed, while on others, he resembles Eric Burdon howling a typically dark Animals tune.
"I don't think we have quite as much soul as Eric Burdon," Bradley says and laughs. He cites the 13th Floor Elevators as a big influence and explains that the country-tinged morbidity of "How Do You Tell a Child That Someone Has Died"—Evil's standout song about explaining death to a kid—was inspired by the cassettes you pick up at a truck stop. "Have you ever heard one of those trucker compilations where a guy just talks over the music? They're funny and dark at the same time."
Black Lips ace that same trick throughout Evil. Alexander rattles off a long list of Indian tribes on the peyote-stained love song "Navajo" and sings from the perspective of young thugs on the short-but-startling anthem "Bad Kids," detailing with vocal harmonies a long rap sheet ranging from truancy to graffiti to dodging child support. It's laugh-out-loud hilarious, as well as disturbingly realistic.
The raucous "O Katrina!" recasts the disastrous hurricane as a woman you'd never want to cross: "O Katrina, why you gotta be mean?" "It's supposed to be a double-entendre," Bradley says. "We're not a political band or anything, [but] our guitarist [Ian Brown] is from there. And a girl's a lot like a hurricane—she can fuck your shit up real bad."
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When told that it's nice to hear a band singing songs with actual characters and plots, Bradley counters, "Sometimes you have to apply a theme to songs if you don't have any more ideas. I'm a big fan of nonsensical lyrics."
Okay. At least he owns up to Black Lips' anachronistic sound. "In a lot of those '60s pop records, they'd mix the vocals really high, record on tape, and put weird white noise in the background. We'll record some in the bathroom and pick up reverb so it sounds old and warm. It just sounds better. It's not as sterile."
Sterile is not a word that'd ever come up in describing the band's infamous live energy, which earned them a rep for trashing stages. Any truth in it? "That's more or less a myth. Maybe when we were much younger, like 16. We don't really do that anymore. We just try to have fun."
BLACK LIPS PERFORM WITH THE SPITS AND DEAR HEARTS AT THE GLASS HOUSE, 200 W. SECOND ST., POMONA, (714) 647-7704; WWW.THEGLASSHOUSE.US. WED., 7 P.M. $10-$12; ALSO AT DETROIT BAR, 843 W. 19TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 642-0600; WWW.DETROITBAR.COM. Oct. 21. CALL FOR TIME AND COVER.