It’s telling that “Drive-By Buddy,” the first song on Black Lips’ seventh album Underneath The Rainbow, bears a strong resemblance to The Monkees’ debut single, “Last Train To Clarksville.” If the past decade has taught the world anything, it’s that Black Lips is a band that knows how to navigate the tricky pathways between play-acting and pastiche. That The Monkees did the exact same thing with its influences only heightens the profound sense of make-believe at the heart of Rainbow’s goofy-ass garage-pop.
As always with Black Lips, “garage-pop” encompasses a lot—and on Rainbow, a full spectrum of tin can treble and boyish slovenliness is smeared across an otherwise typical batch of tunes. “Make You Mine” is a nerve-jangling, Television Personalities-esque spasm of geekitude, while “Dorner Party” throws asthmatic saxophone over a clean-toned punk gem. Not that distortion doesn’t show up, although not as often as on the group’s last album, 2011’s Arabia Mountain. “Funny” is a fuzz-clogged, glam-rock stomper; equally loud is “Dandelion Dust,” whose “Spirit In The Sky” riff hits like a store-brand psychedelic.
Rainbow works best when it strikes the perfect balance between bratty abandon and silly sensitivity, as it does on “Smiling,” a sloppily harmonized plea for adolescent autonomy that feels oddly more heartfelt, not less, now that Black Lips’ members are all in their 30s. And the chanted nonsense about Virginia Slims and “pulsating retinas” toward the end of the album’s superb closer. “Dog Years,” is especially inspired, mostly because it gives the band enough space in which to horse around and break free—not much, but almost enough.