Thinking about the history of the Black Lips, it was probably always just a matter of time before the band flicked their hair grease onto some corn pone. Specialists in raucous, retro rock ‘n’ roll as raw as fingertips ravaged by a long night of assaulting steel strings, the band out of Atlanta turns to a different sort of musical excavation on their new album, Sing in a World That’s Falling Apart. They delve into an old school country music sound on the album, swirling in twang and drawl to their usual brand of especially oily garage rock. If Elvis Presley had run with his county influence instead of his R&B influence and the subsequent evolution of pop had proceeded accordingly, this new Black Lips material would have been the sound of proper rebellion, circa 1968.
The material on Sing in a World That’s Falling Apart calls to mind all sorts of infinite-universe comparisons. “Gentleman” is the kind of thing Kris Kristofferson would have kicked out if he operated with a crude sense of humor (“This ol’ middle finger/ Has grown fat and tired from flicking the bird”), and “Get It On Time” is the sound of a Bob Dylan who never stopped making music in that West Saugerties, the Band eternally behind him like cursed figures in a fairy tale. And the Kinks-like “Angola Rodeo” is proof that the Black Lips are only going to stray so far from their base instincts, no matter what experimental mandate they’ve adopted.
Enjoyable as the album often is, Sing in a World That’s Falling Apart sometimes comes across as a little too much of a pose, recalling the theme park honky-tonk hollowness that often infested the output of preceding practitioners of this sort of sound, such as Southern Culture on the Skids or the Reverend Horton Heat. The tighter the Black Lips get, the more the tracks take on a tinge of fabrication, which is basically the opposite of their more rock-oriented records. The album burbles irresistibly when looseness is the prevailing vibe, as on “Dishonest Men,” which couples nineteen-fifties sci-fi sounds with a little surf rock ease, and “Live Fast Die Slow,” a boozy singalong built to be the last number slipped in before closing time. In a world that does indeed feel like it’s falling part, it’s the rattletrap version of the Black Lips aesthetic that feels most right and true.