For most of their career, the Black Lips have been anything but tepid. Over the course of six solid albums ranging from their raw self-titled 2003 debut to the far more polished Arabia Mountain from 2011, the band was always distinct while stirring up a fresh energy in garage rock. Bolstered by live antics as entertaining as their sound (rumors and reports of onstage nudity, puking, and urinating continue to swirl), this band locked into an identity, seemingly never to deviate.
However, the group seemingly fell out of their prime with 2014’s Underneath the Rainbow. Largely produced by the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, most of that album sounded flat, generic, and exactly the opposite of what one has come to expect from the Black Lips. And their latest, Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art? (Vice Records), is only a slightly more authentic effort than its predecessor. This new album proves the band is capable of reverting to the rough-around-the-edges textures found pre-Underneath, but not able to re-establish their original drive or raging quality.
Satan’s Graffiti invites indifference, sounding like the kind of forgettable release that often follows an artist’s quintessential period (see Pavement’s Wowee Zowee). In classic Black Lips fashion, many of the songs here do evoke different eras, ranging from sixties pop balladry (“Crystal Night”) to Bo Diddley-style fifties rock & roll (“Squatting in Heaven”) and mid-century country western (“Lucid Nightmare”). Delivering such vintage sounds with an added brush of psychedelia is hardly new territory for Black Lips, but it doesn’t lead to additional listens this time around. Those aforementioned eras rule this album’s sound, forcing songs that are often indistinct from each other, run long without catharsis, and otherwise do everything to not stand out. In a nutshell, any semblance of the Black Lips the garage-punk band has disappeared, and it’s abundantly clear that the creativity that sustained them through 2011 has as well.