Shortcuts—Black Lips’s Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo

By Supriya Sinhababu

It’s true that any idiot can be a rock star so long as that idiot makes up in showmanship what he lacks in chops. This theory holds true for the Black Lips, who on their best day sound like a brain-damaged version of the Exploding Hearts. Cutting their teeth at the age of 15 on the lowliest of underground performances, the Black Lips, now 22, have made their name with such stage antics as setting off firecrackers, setting fire to their pubic hair, playing their guitars with their penises, and urinating into their own mouths.

In this context, the Black Lips’ new live album, Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, should have been the crowning achievement of a band that deals mostly in dunce caps. Both the inclusion of live footage and the Tijuana backdrop give the Black Lips ample opportunity to entertain. Somehow, the album manages to feel far more composed than one would expect from the Atlanta-based foursome performing in Mexico’s most notorious city. The band gives a well practiced performance, even on tracks that feature the half-ape howls of the band’s three lead singers. Other songs contain full minutes of guitar feedback tinged with mariachi music, such as the album’s finale “Juvenile.” Clearly making efforts to do justice to favorites like “Dirty Hands” and “Sea of Blasphemy,” Los Valientes shows the Black Lips eschewing, if only for the moment, their usual method of staggering semi-recognizability throughout their repertoire.

The live footage features such tidbits as half-naked, frolicking audience members and mariachi singers opening for the band, but the Black Lips themselves give a fairly straitlaced performance in comparison with their usual G.G. Allin–worthy shenanigans. The album also bears uncharacteristically crisp production values both for the band and for any live recording, thanks to ex–Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu member John Reis. Reis’s only major snafu is the five-minute silence that brings the album finale “Juvenile” to a standstill at the halfway point.

Unfortunately, the clarity of both the performance and recording make for an altogether boring album. The Black Lips’ only chance at breathing life into the garage revival is by offering catharsis through drug-addled shrieks and showers of bodily fluids. When they attempt to play with real skill, the most difficult maneuver any musician faces, the joke’s on them.