It’s been 10 years since most of us even heard about Black Lips. Their 2007 album Good Bad Not Evil had some great singles on it. As a rock album, it did its job and that’s all you could really ask out of this wild pack of Atlanta youth.
That was 2007. Black Lips have not stopped making records. In fact, they’ve really tried to make “An Album” by roping in Mark Ronson for Arabia Mountain in 2011 and even stooping so low as to recruit Patrick Carney in 2014 for Underneath the Rainbow. I revisited these recently and you’re not missing much.
What you are missing in your life is their newest album: Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art? I’ve spent some quality time with this record and I can safely say they finally made “An Album.” Black Lips’ producer of choice for this go-around is none other than John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s progeny Sean. I don’t want this to be an article about, “Sean Lennon helped Black Lips make a good album,” even though it certainly seems that way. What really seems at play is Black Lips realizing they’re working with a producer whose blood is the same as a man who was in The Beatles. Again, I only bring this up because it sure seems like Black Lips approached this record thinking, “Let’s make our Sgt. Pepper’s and let’s get Sean Lennon to help us.”
Despite the 18-tracks, this album is focused and paced out to make the journey enjoyable all the way until the end. Rather than their previous approach of throwing a bunch of songs on an album and hoping some stick, the songs on Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art? are structured to ensure every track means something in the context of the album. “Occidental Front” blasts out the gate like a siren, except the siren is literally Yoko Ono. They don’t even bother keeping up the pace, instantly switching gears to the psychedelic “Can’t Hold On”. This two song shift forces the listener to acknowledge two versions of this band, further begging the album’s titular question. As “Can’t Hold On” settles down, “The Last Cul De Sac” sneaks in and lights the fire on the album’s cover. From there it’s a measured amount of left-field interludes that make the songs that follow them hit even harder. “Crystal Night” into “Squatting in Heaven” marks an incredible high point and are both likely about hard drugs, despite the undeniable beauty laced within “Crystal Night”.
Album centerpiece “Wayne” recalls “Crystal Night” but finds every band member jumping in to sing the song’s title. Interesting side note on “Wayne”: given Yoko Ono & Sean Lennon’s involvement with The Flaming Lips, I get the feeling these lyrics could be a direct shot at Wayne Coyne. Take for instance:
“Wayne, what did you have to gain? You started just like us. But then you broke our trust. Oh Wayne. You did it for the fame. You always knew you’d be. A real celebrity.”
Worth a thought, but even if it’s (most likely) not, what a beautiful song! Black Lips have always been at their best when they’ve combined their sloppy garage aesthetic with that country twang they grew up around in the South. I believe our site’s namesake has referred to this type of music as, “Classic American Music Gone To Hell” and how could an album titled Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art? not fall under that category?
I will say, the back half of this album is tedious the first few spins. Once you give it a few listens, tracks like “Come Ride With Me” and “It Won’t Be Long” begin to shine as brightly as many of the album’s first half stand outs. Needless to say, this album is a grower and I feel may have been dismissed back in May because of this fact. The other reason being we’ve gotten so used to dismissing Black Lips albums that most of you reading this probably didn’t even know they had a new album out. But that’s why I’m typing all of this because I considered myself in that boat as well. Despite my best efforts, I continue to return to this album. I think the album title has a lot to do with it. Black Lips consistently explore the contrast of cute and trashy throughout. Even the sequencing with its overture, finale and interludes make more sense when faced once again with the album’s titular question. Quite the philosophical query, isn’t it? (I tend to prefer pondering God’s Graffiti or Satan’s Art, as it throws a darker shade into question.) However, Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art? is worthy of the time spent listening or pondering.
I truly believe this is the best album Black Lips have ever made. This may seem hyperbolic, but why else do we keep our ear to the ground listening to new bands? Sure, some of them are capable of knocking a masterpiece out of the park right away, but it feels reviews of any new band’s album wants to end itself with: “…and I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.” There is always that anticipation that what you’re hearing is prelude to something bigger. Surely that’s what many thought of Black Lips back in 2007. My point is, there was a time when certain people believed Black Lips could make a classic record and they were right. It took them 10 years, but they finally did it.