After working with Mark Ronson on their previous album, Arabia Mountain, and successfully replacing the raunchy G-punk noise they were known for with a punchier, more accessible approach, the Black Lips turned to producers Patrick Carney of the Black Keys and Dap-Kings member Tommy Brenneck to helm their 2014 record, Underneath the Rainbow. Not surprisingly, the record marks another giant step toward respectability, with the rest of the gunk stripped away in the name of fidelity. It would be nice to say that this renovation allowed the songs some room to breath and as a result the band sounds better than ever. Sadly, it only means that almost all of their personality has been stripped away too, and the overall sound is so clean and polite that, apart from the occasional spot of oddball lyrics, this record could have been made by any four rock dudes anywhere. The songs that work the best are those that let some weirdness creep in organically, like on rambling psych rocker "Dog Years," or those that ramp up the energy to levels one might have found on earlier albums. Check "Dorner Party" or the rip-roaring "I Don't Wanna Go Home" for good examples of tracks that have some verve. The rest of the time the band is working even harder than usual to be "dangerous," dipping into some corny Southern country-rock ("Justice After All"), dropping some serious blues-rawk clichés ("Dandelion Dust"), or sounding like the kind of "real" rock band you might hear during the early afternoon of a big rock festival ("Funny," "Drive-By Buddy"). The low point of the album, and possibly their entire existence, is the truly awful sub-Cramps "Do the Vibrate," which isn't about dancing or good vibrations as one might hope; instead, it's all about cell phones, which can only mean they really have nothing left to say. The Black Lips are far enough into their career that it almost seemed inevitable that they were due to go big and make a bid for some mainstream success, Mick Rock cover photo and all. Sometimes it can work for a band, not for the Black Lips though. In their case the songs are too weak, the sound is too good (aka lifeless), and the album feels like a career move instead of anything real or fun. They've come back from other less-than-thrilling albums before, so one can only hope that Underneath the Rainbow is a bump in the road instead of the end.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra