Black Lips are savvy motherfuckers, ostensibly building a successful career by playing ’60s and punk-inspired, lo-fi garage rock (or, what they call “flower punk”) that isn’t better or worse than the inoffensive garage rock (not called “flower punk”) made by a zillion other bands. They mix in some lite elements of Southern soul and rap (take a listen to “The Drop I Hold”) here/there, but you can dig into Estrus, Crypt, In the Red (Black Lips old label home), Get Hip!, Bomp (BL’s other past label), etc., and find plenty of analogous acts. (To look backwards, their sound hits on the Vagrants, A-Bones, the Fleshtones, etc.) Yes, the Atlanta crew know how to write catchy, interestingly textured songs, but it’s still surprising what an image can do, landing the ragtag rockers on Conan, their music on Dirty Sexy Money, and their itineraries booked the world over on various festival circuits, while their sonic brethren still play in, well, garages. (It’s also impressive they got chased out of India just in time to promote their fifth studio album, 200 Million Thousand.) There’s gotta me more than just pissing in each other’s mouths selling these records, right? After all, G.G. Alllin, the Mentors, Slogun, and etc., never had this sort of “luck.” 200 Million Thousand answers this with a “yes,” but maybe not for the reason’s you’d expect.
Jessica’s Progress Report promised a more melodic, but not overproduced sound. This is true: The 200 Million’s fuzz and hiss is one of its best attributes. And it all goes down easy. First single “Short Fuse“‘s an immediate, jangly pop song that adds just enough whooshing space sounds to (a) remind you of the 13th Floor Elevators and (b) make sure it fits their “flower-punk” self-descriptors. Opener “Take My Heart” gallops along with a Doors-esque pulse and ragtag, scissoring guitar line. “Drugs” is a straight-up top-down garage rocker with a ’50s prom dance pulse. Or there’s the more down-tempo, elegiac Grease-ready “Starting Over.” And, speaking of 13th Floor Elevators again, the guys get “Trapped In A Basement” filled with reverb and spooky background vocals. Tracks like the echoing “Old Man” and the aforementioned “Trapped” have a classic feel. Some of these songs could age nicely.
That’s the thing: Black Lips sing about picking up prostitutes, taking drugs, and fucking shit up, but the end result feels about as offensive and edgy at this point as Elvis shaking his pelvis in 2009. They sample the Jonestown Death Tape, that old “Kid On LSD” clip, and they want us to believe they’re bad-asses. OK, take a listen to “I Saw God”: The bleep-bleep-bleepity-laced sermonizing of Cole Alexander sounds a hell of a lot like old-time Bright Eyes filtered through the Monks. See, that’s the secret: At the end of the day, Black Lips make fun (and accessible to all ages!) music, music your parents might like if they were ever into the Sonics or the Vagrants, or whatever. Though they’d likely scold the guys for acting out so much.
200 Million Thousand is out 2/24 on Die Slaughterhaus/Vice Music.