Phil Elvrum of the Microphones claims that Black Lips singer Cole Alexander, “Peed into his own mouth and then spit it on the crowd. But he really is a sweet guy.” Good bad not evil indeed.
Peeing in your own mouth: As far as badass stage antics go, that’s really doing a lot with very little. And the Black Lips are nothing if not economical. Their songs are fast, tight and stripped bare — garage punk pared down to its essentials. They get in, they do their thing and they get out in less than three minutes.
In their best moments, the band has a playful energy that (improbably) isn’t too far removed from the back-and-forth Shangri-Las number — “Walk Right Up To Him (Give Him a Great Big Kiss)” — that inspired the album’s title. “Bad Kids,” a chipper tribute to delinquency and one of the album’s finest songs, features the following call and response between two Lips: “Smoke cigs!/ In the bathroom stall!/ Spray paint!/ A penis on the wall!” Moments like these have a sublime brattiness that’s pretty hard to resist. Similarly charming is “Veni Vidi Vici,” which involves a sleazeball backbeat and lead singer Alexander lazily whining, “I came, I saw and I conquered,” while sounding mostly like he just conquered a bottle of Jack Daniels.
The music is good, but the attitude is often sort of dumb. They’re going for gleeful, fuck-all-y’all offensiveness — basically, the same sensibility in which Vice magazine trafficks (this is the Black Lips’ first release on the Vice record label). That works for Vice because Vice is really funny. The Black Lips are only sort of funny. But then again, they’re also only sort of offensive.
“How Do You Tell a Child” echoes the smirking country spoof of the Rolling Stones’ “Dear Doctor.” But — crazy joke! — it’s about death! “The girl I’m to marry is a four-legged sow,” sang Mick; “The teacher you loved, Mr. Peterson, has sadly passed away,” sing the Black Lips. The band has claimed that the song was partly inspired by the death of one of their original members. Likewise, “Katrina” is a bitter love song to a girl from (of course) New Orleans. In both cases, the band’s intent seems to straddle vague tastelessness and earnest sentiment to weird effect. What are they up to, anyway? There’s the potential for something funny or interesting, but they’re not bothering to pull it off. Their shenanigans just tend to fall flat.
It’s no fun to see a band try so hard to be rude to so little effect. The self-parody of “Bad Kids” suggests a measure of self-awareness, which is promising. But if the Black Lips want to achieve the musical equivalent of peeing in their own mouths, they’re going to have to try a little harder.