The Black Lips have been spewing their garage punk layered with raw, gritty guitars and sloppy vocals since early 2003 with their debut, Black Lips! When they first hit the scene, let’s just say they weren’t on many top ten lists. Everyone was distracted by electronic beats: The Postal Service’s Give Up and smile inducting harmonies: The Shins Chutes Too Narrow. But by the time their fourth studio album, Good Bad Not Evil, was released in late 2007, the Georgia boys had everyone from Pitchfork to NME on board rating the album an average 4 to 5 stars.
Some reviewers claimed that GBNE was the bands magnum opus, even though it only clocked in at 35 minutes with 13 tracks. Frankly, that’s not enough Black Lips for me. 200 Million Thousand, on the other hand, runs a solid 51 minutes between 15 tracks which, in my opinion, give the GBNE a run for its money on the magnum opus front.
The band preps fans of the upcoming release with an elaborate anecdote (found on their MySpace page) that explains their faith in themselves, their new record, and above all, “bad-ass-ness.”
“And so, on the eve of the release of their fifth album, the faith abides stronger than ever. A host of influences have passed through their gullet and provided the sustenance to keep their faith alive. The dusts of a southern back road and the big-city gutter puke crackle in the grooves of this record as it did in the previous ones. The shouts and moans and static continue to bear witness.”
Hit their MySpace page for an enjoyable read that was apparently written above a bay in a purple and orange fog while sipping on some gin. Definitely sounds like the Black Lips to me.
The first time through the record, the analog production quality is immediately noticeable. Crank the volume on any of these tracks and you’ll hear that wonderful tape hiss. “Drugs” had me bobbing my head back-and-forth to the bass line without a conscious effort. With lyrics like, “We’ll laugh about this tomorrow,” the Lips can justify just about any of their outrageous on stage antics…it’s also a great motto for your drunk friend that manages to make an ass out of himself every weekend. Not only that but the surf rock guitars, tight drumming, and perpetual cymbals will put you in the mood for a trip to the beach, or at least a trip…
“Drugs” is followed up by the most accessible track and first single from the new record, “Starting Over”. Initially, it feels pretty tame for the Lips but what the instrumentals lack in aggression, the lyrics make up for with, “I’ll drink some more beer, then I’ll blow out my mind.” When “BBBJOT” rolls around, it holds your ears hostage with an opening line, “It don’t matter what they say, you can’t be the Jack Johnson of today; Big Black Baby Jesus On The Way.” Unfortunately, the Lips feel like they’re on autopilot until “I Saw God”. It intros with a sample of a kid explaining LSD to the media and brilliantly morphs into a testament that could have been a solid track but the censoring does add a bit of hilarity to the album. You’ll have to listen to the song to know what I’m talking about.
Throughout the album, there was only one track that I felt missed the mark, “The Drop I Hold”. Cole Alexander talk raps over some slow melancholic grooves about dropping acid, “that’s how it goes when the drop enters your brain.” Now that I think about it and I re-read that sentence, “The Drop I Hold” is a welcomed departure from the usual murky swamp music and indistinguishable lyrics. I was hard pressed to find a bad song but there are a few that rise above the rest. As with the rest of the Lips’ material, this album only sweetens with age and as you become more familiar and can pick out the subtleties.
If you were a fan of the Black Lips back when you were the only hipster heralding their name within earshot and also because of that reason, this may not be the album for you. 200 Million Thousand is gunning for big recognition in ’09 and an even bigger fan base. Expect to see these southerners at this year’s summer festivals.
With the flawless instrumentation on this record, there’s only one thing holding it back, the definitive loose and careless vocals. After the release of their fifth studio disc, Lips fans don’t have to worry about those vocals going anywhere. Without them, there’s no Black Lips and without the Black Lips, there’s no garage punk.