King Khan + Mark Sultan + Black Lips + crime spree = Almighty Defenders

Because the facts surrounding the Black Lips’ tour of India earlier this year are probably far less sensational and stupefying than the Internet rumors, let’s agree to ignore them, shall we?

According to legend — yep, it’s already reached that level — the Atlanta garage-rock derelicts went on quite the tear, offending local sensibilities and leaving behind a trail of broken bottles and wrecked venues. With the police on their backs, the story goes, the Lips hightailed it to Germany, where they hid out with freaky punk-soul shaman King Khan and his frequent collaborator Mark “BBQ” Sultan.

While on the lamb, the Lips and their aiding-and-abetting cohorts formed the Almighty Defenders and dashed off a self-titled album — a collection whose 11 songs incorporate the strengths of all involved artists: Khan’s Screaming Jay Hawkins-style R&B, Sultan’s gritty take on Sam Cooke soul and the Lips’ irreverent, antisocial ’60s punk.

Said elements combine to form a sort of shambling rock ‘n’ gospel sound, and oh, how these knuckleheads testify.

On standout “Cone of Light,” Sultan finds salvation at the ice-cream stand, while “Jihad Blues,” sung by lead Lip Cole Alexander, explores the jumbled thoughts of an Islamic terrorist. “Just give me a box cutter and a one-way ticket,” Alexander sings, retro soul chords slow-burning in the background. As the song progresses, his words devolve into blubbering quacks and shrieks, a la the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird.” Cole is either commenting on the emotional stress of resigning oneself to martyrdom or having himself a sick laugh. Maybe both.

If the Defenders aren’t terribly serious about any of the things they sing about — love, war, religion, etc. — there’s no doubting their commitment to reviving the spirit of rock’s first decade, the period that starts with Elvis and Little Richard and ends with creation of skuzzy psychedelia.

Regardless of whether that India-to-Germany getaway actually took place, one part of the story rings true: Forced to hide from the law, these are exactly the type of people who would break out the drums and electric guitars and bang out an album like “Almighty Defenders,” even if doing so might increase their chances of being found out.

— Kenneth Partridge

LISTEN
Cone of Light mp3

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