Arabia Mountain set the bar almost too high for the Black Lips, a band of self-proclaimed 'Bad Kids' whose motivation for success seems not to be making money or earning artistic respect, but rather just having a vehicle for acting provocatively in public. Unfortunately for them, Arabia Mountain demonstrated what they could accomplish given a little coaching (thanks to Mark Ronson); it was a truly great rock record and maybe my favorite album of 2011. Underneath the Rainbow is not that record though, nor is it really close. However what's so frustrating is that there are great songs here (namely the Ian led 'Make you Mine', the Joe sung 'Justice After All' and 'Dorner Party', and the Cole sung 'Boys in the Wood'). But the rest of the album feels lazy, like they had to unearth the vaults for old B-Sides and/or write half-assed album tracks just to get the album out on time. In fact they even hired a friend to write a song for them, enlisting Bradford Cox to co-write the very Monomania-ish "Dog Years". A band with four songwriters should not have this problem. In fact Jared, usually the most reliable of the four for providing great material, only has one significant contribution, the annoyingly catchy "Smiling" ("I Don't Want to Go Home", his other song, is a forgettable throwaway).
There might be something revealing about the fact that misbehaving in class and other teenage hi-jinx are still recurring themes in the Black Lips songs, even when most of these guys are now in their 30's. If their artistic vision is to be the rock music equivalent of the high-IQ student who shuns school and drops out (i.e. the type of kid that would make any teacher want to give up and quit their job), then they are succeeding with flying colors. But if not, when they grow up I hope they don't regret their squandered talents, especially when they had a very legitimate opportunity to seize something special with this record.