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The Black Lips: Good, bad and lovely

New music upstages Atlanta band's stage antics

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For much of the past year, the Black Lips have been engulfed by a storm of publicity and hype, both in Atlanta and around the world. Much of the fascination stems from legend surrounding their live performances, and the wild onstage antics they sometimes engage in. Their image is of a young Southern rock 'n' roll band that doesn't give a fuck -- a grungier, postmillennial version of the Stooges. Vice, a notoriously provocative corporation that prides itself as being the arbiter of bleeding-edge youth culture (and whose record label, Vice Records, is aligned with Atlantic/Warner), has stoked the buzz with online videos showing the band's most drunken and inflammatory moments.

It's safe to say that, given their outsize reputation, the Black Lips' fourth album, Good Bad Not Evil, could have been an enormous letdown. But the disc, which sprints by at just 35 minutes, perfectly illustrates why the quartet is such a great and exciting band without resorting to pretension or self-indulgence.

The Black Lips often complain that they are more than a "garage" act, but Good Bad Not Evil sounds as raw and piercing as a group of kids banging out tunes in a basement. Produced by John Reis – a punk vet who has played in Rocket from the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu – the album's guitars ring loud and clear, and there's little to no studio engineering to cushion the blow. But the band's sophistication extends beyond self-conscious minimalism. Its range includes the tangy surf guitar of "O Katrina!" the doleful country balladry of "How Do You Tell a Child That Someone Has Died," and the tough power-pop of "Bad Kids." The Black Lips achieve subtleties that most "garage" bands can't touch.

Best of all, Good Bad Not Evil has some great songs. "Cold Hands" is stark, lean and ominous, and rambles along with ragged grace. "Veni Vidi Vici" is one long drawl that sticks in your mind like a schoolyard put-down. If the Black Lips are under pressure to fulfill the hype surrounding them, then they responded by making their best album to date.

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