Black Lips

Satan's Graffiti or God's Art?

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When Mark Ronson and Patrick Carney want to clean up your act, what do you do? If you're in the Black Lips, you go along, which turned out to be a good idea on 2011's Arabia Mountain, produced by Ronson, and not so great on 2014's Underneath the Rainbow, with Carney of the Black Keys at the controls. If those two albums don't do much to advance your career beyond your current cult following, what's your next move? Well, you start hanging out with your friend Sean Lennon, and get him to produce an album that throws you back into the deep end of murk. Released in 2017, Satan's Graffiti or God's Art? not only reestablishes the group's former sonic personality as the fuzzy nexus between the Fall and the Trashmen, it's one of the most chaotic things the Black Lips have cut since 2005's Let It Bloom. With John Lennon's son at the mixing board, no one is likely to second guess your production choices, and while Sean gives the Black Lips a punchier sound than they had pre-Ronson, ultimately this is the work of a band that was clearly encouraged to get loose after a few years of struggling to be tight. And loose is clearly the band's comfort zone, with these performances wandering all over the place between the ragged guitars, honking saxophones, and wailing keyboards, though the rhythm section valiantly labors to keep things traveling in the same direction. However, while the Black Lips seem to be having a good time conjuring up some dirty-ass rock & roll on these sessions, their songwriting takes a serious hit, and the most memorable songs are the seriously awful ones (most notably the clumsily tasteless "Crystal Night," which includes guitar and vocals from Saul Adamczewski of Fat White Family). And the band even botches its opportunity to have Yoko Ono do a guest scream on the album, with her trademark wailing on "Occidental Front" mostly buried under the guitars. The Black Lips still sound like the rulers of an unwholesome party underworld on Satan's Graffiti or God's Art?, but it's hard not to feel like both hosts and guests are running out of steam.

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