Turns out these Atlanta garage-punks weren’t totally joking when they threatened to go “southern rock.” Under the Rainbow may be devoid of soaring twin guitar solos, soulful free-as-a-bird vocals and boogie shuffles. But what else would you call “Boys in the Wood,” a bluesy slog with the deliberate pacing of boots through swamp-mud, an atmosphere of unbreathable humidity, and a drawling chorus of indolent menace?
The band’s seventh album, recorded in Nashville with the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney and in Brooklyn with Daptone guitarist Thomas Brenneck, feels notably looser than its predecessor, the Mick Ronson-produced Rainbow Arabia. But their anarchic tendencies are kept in check, each mistake in its proper place. The opening track, “Drive By Buddy,” is the Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” medicated to a unfrazzled lope: A desultory red-herring of a guitar solo sets you up for the real thing a few second later.
Under the Rainbow is also the Lips’ widest-ranging album. The ramshackle backbeat and hungover jitters of “Smiling,” a pride-swallowing plea for bail, recalls later Libertines in the same way the British band recalled early Strokes. So maybe “southern rock” is a little vague, and maybe the Black Lips are just doing what they’ve always done — looting the past for whatever models of reprobate cool give them a good excuse to strut and yowl.