Artist: Black Lips
Title: 200 Million Thousand
Label: Vice Records
Release date: Feb. 24, 2009
The Black Lips, one of the world’s hardest-working live acts, have followed up their 2007 masterpiece, Good Bad Not Evil, with the 14 delightfully eclectic tracks of 200 Million Thousand.
The surprisingly beautiful, soothing “Starting Over” is easily the most accessible song, so whoever picked it as Vice Records’ freebie download to build up anticipation for this album deserves a high-five.
“Short Fuse” was also used to promote the album before its Feb. 24 release, and it is also easy on the ears.
With two songs that are more likely to remind you of when you discovered your own mother’s collection of 1960’s pop standards than a band known for setting drum kits on fire and urinating in their own mouths, many may have expected a clean-sounding album and a different approach from The Black Lips.
The opening seconds of “Take My Heart” will dispel any fears that the band has departed from trashy punk-meets-garage-rock (or, as they call it, “flower punk”).
“Drugs” starts earning this album the “eclectic” tag (or, if you prefer, “directionless” accusations), as it is a keyboard part away from sounding like a demo version of a New York Dolls or Hollywood Brats tune. This is especially true toward the end of the song when the band really kicks things into gear.
The fourth track, “Let It Grow,” is a masterpiece of neo-psychedelic, guitar-fuzz junkie rock that seems to be overlooked by critics. It, in some ways, is a seasoned band’s take on some of its earlier output, so fans of the first three albums will surely get snagged in their unsuspecting mouths by the hook of “Let It Grow.”
“Trapped in a Basement” is getting those before-mentioned critics’ accolades, as you would be hard-pressed to find a review that does not laud this bluesy attempt at Southern storytelling. Rightfully so, as this is a spooky, modern version of “House of the Rising Son” which captures the true tale of a man and his incestuous relationship with the daughter he kept locked in a basement.
The tune “I’ll Be With You” seems to be a lo-fi statement of Platonic love. While it is not a bad song, it might be the album’s most forgettable.
“Big Black Baby Jesus of Today” is both lo-fi and slightly tribal, as it is complemented by some solid guitar work and lyrics that are as bizarre as you might expect.
The next tune, “Again & Again,” is a cover of the Iguanas, a band fronted by Iggy Pop back when he was still known as James Osterberg.
“Old Man” with its echo-heavy lyrics is another nod to the psychedelic garage bands you would likely find in Cole, Jared, Ian and Joe’s vinyl collections.
Another out-of-the-blue surprise is “The Drop I Hold,” which features Cole rapping along with a piano-based song accented by primal screams that sounds like it came out of a Deep South swamp. Does that sound like it would work? If your answer is no, you should check out this track and be amazed at how the band makes this should-be train wreck work well.
“Body Combat” is somewhat funky, in a lo-fi kind of way. This is another song that has no business working, but the band somehow managed to meld this concept into a decent tune.
On “Elijah,” the album begins to jerk to a slow stop, as the song itself sort of jerks along. To be fair, with the band trying to mix in all kinds of different elements into their sound, not every strange brew will please every fan.
The drug experience anthem “I Saw God” mixes a dramatic lecture with radio censor beeps in a song that ends chaotically when it breaks down into unholy incantations. A bluesy surprise song plays a few minutes after the end of the last listed track, and it is a nice bow on an album of surprises.
Overall, this mixed bag of an album will not likely convert as many to the social gospel of The Black Lips as its more coherent predecessor. While Good Bad Not Evil and its easier-to-digest sound came along at the right time, just as the band was primed to reach out to new audiences, this mixed bag of sounds may scare off some potential new fans. To simplify the difference between the two albums, the new Black Lips disk is their Sandinista, which fittingly was preceded by their London Calling.
As Jack Hines, a former Black Lips guitarist, points out in Vice Magazine’s “Guide to Atlanta,” our city is full of “last ditchers... real honest-to-God ‘do or die’ types.” With 200 Million Thousand, The Black Lips capture both the confrontations with reality and the drug-addled fantasies that pull some transplanted suburban rejects through life in otherwise dim places like Atlanta.
At least “kids like you and me” can carve out a unique existence somewhere, even if it is in the Deep South. That is the message of The Black Lips. That is their social gospel.