For a band whose endlessly immature and amusing antics include on-stage urination, nudity and guitar-burning, a mob of blathering, flannel-clad devotees is pretty much guaranteed. When said band has talent to boot, well, then you’ve got Atlanta’s Black Lips, self-described “flower punks” and sleaze gods of neo-garage. Where so many artists get lost in the ‘00s’ tidal wave of garage revivalists, Black Lips do their best to stand out – they, for the most part, sound sloppier, truer, and despite their grubby sound, tighter than their fellow revivalists. In just under an hour of fun, discordant debauchery, Black Lips’ fifth studio album, 200 Million Thousand, rips through fifty years of trashy, cacophonic lo-fi bliss, a brilliant blend of cheap beer and sweaty moshpit dogma.
Black Lips’ luster comes from their complete lack thereof – there is absolutely nothing shiny and original about this band, whose fifth album, fortunately, shows no growth or development from their debut, but rather a hovering sense of grungy familiarity.
They salute all their 60’s garage-y predecessors – big names like the Kingsmen, the Seeds, and also their plentiful anonymous, greasier counterparts – in their thrown-to-the-gutter, unpolished swagger. For the first time ever, Black Lips record in an actual studio with actual equipment, but not to worry, 200 mIllion Thousand still sounds like it was recorded in a shag-carpeted basement on a flea market 4-track.
Like other Vice Records protegees, Black Lips music is twisted, ironic, and undoubtedly delivered with an ever-present sneer. “Drugs” sums up the Black Lips way of life, a scuzzily upbeat surf-rock anthem about wasted youth doing dirty stuff in “dirty backseats”. Their cover of Iggy Pop’s pre-Stooges band, the Iguanas’, “Again and Again” is another nice touch, especially considering Black Lips’ Iggy-ish sound on freaked-out tracks like “Trapped in a Basement”. On “Let it Grow”, vocals are sung in an almost inhuman wail, but it is saved by its supreme catchiness. Though they hide it with layers of fuzz, grime and atonality, Black Lips can create some mean clean hooks and craft songs pretty as their antics are ugly.
Black Lips do not for a moment sound tender. They have song names like “Big Black Baby Jesus of Today” and their harmonies, surely, are created solely to induce winces. They approach softness on “Starting over”, which starts as a slow, almost poignant jangle, but when vocalist Cole Alexander chimes in with his signature tuneless slur, it’s clear “starting over” he’s not. He and his band of merry slackers will in all likelihood continue to make the same, great album for years to come, and glorious it shall be.
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