The legend of Black Lips has grown exponentially of late, based almost entirely on an infamously debauched live show. You don’t hear nearly as much about the band’s three previous garage-rock albums (the eponymous debut was released in 2003) as you do about the band-member-on-band-member make-outs, spectacular piss geysers or cock-out rock-outs. Never one to shy away from spectacles in questionable taste, Vice swooped in to hitch its wagon to the car crash. Using a live concert in Tijuana to emphasize both the “debauched” and “live” aspects of the band’s rep is clever marketing, but the newly performed old material sounds exactly the same as it does on those records that no one seems to ever bring up.
The acoustics of the cavernous Mexican club are a perfect match for the low-fidelity hiss of the band’s previous output. If anything, the live recordings sound a touch cleaner. The rough but energetic fuzzed-out and melodic sounds of ’60s garage have been revisited so often that it no longer counts as a throwback: It’s more of an enduring aesthetic choice. In its finest moments, this record explains the genre’s timeless appeal. “Not a Problem” is a call-and-response harmony bomb, made more distinctive by Cole Alexander’s sardonic speak-sing delivery in the lead up to the group yell. Along with “Boomerang” and a couple others, this track sees the group living up to its ultimate ambition of matching the loose and chaotic charm of its teenage predecessors.
But for longtime rock fans, songs like “Stranger,” “Boone” or “Everybody’s Doing It” will hop by in a blur, immediately evaporating against the weight of all the sloppy melodies already occupying head space. And a few questions arise: What does this band add to garage rock’s tradition? What does this tell us about 2007? Anyone who’s spent any time with the Nuggets box will be gripped with familiarity-bred contempt. Since these versions are so similar to their recorded counterparts, the main utility in Los Valientes del Mundo Neuvo is that it consolidates the band’s previous albums for those who don’t want to buy all three.
Watching the video clips of this Tijuana show on Vice’s Web site brings the continued fuss made over Black Lips into sharper view. There are blond wigs, bare asses, masturbating groupies and mid-song head butts, and, more important, there is unquestionable energy from the band. Those ingredients make for a memorable night. But an album and a live show aren’t to be judged on the same merits, and although the songs on Los Valientes del Mundo Neuvo are occasionally enjoyable, they aren’t the stuff of legend in and of themselves.