200 Million Thousand
By Julia Reidy
As one of
most rapidly maturing acts of recent years, the Black Lips already Let It Bloom, and now they’ll “Let It
Grow.” The latter, the fourth track to their fifth studio album, 200 Million Thousand (their third record
for Vice), introduces the listener to more of what they’d expect from the
irreverent flower punk four-piece — whining garage guitar; yelled, often
incoherent, slurred vocals; a drunken aural atmosphere that almost seeps beer
through headphones or speaker banks. But, as so often seems to happen when fans
start to predict a band’s future direction, they’ve veered a bit off the path
they set for themselves with 2007’s fantastic Good Bad Not Evil. They’ll develop a different way.
Rather than continuing to make their songs more hook-centric
and deliberate with each release, the Black Lips have turned toward more echo
and psychedelia, even opting for slower garage tempos over breakneck punk
pacing. No track on 200 Million Thousand
is quite as grimily charming as “Veni Vidi Vici,” for instance, or as adorably
anarchic as “Bad Kids” (both from Good
Bad Not Evil). Instead, we’re given the warbling vocals, silly falsetto
backup and bells of “Trapped in a Basement” and the swaggering, reverb-heavy
half-rap of “The Drop I Hold.”
As always, the Black Lips have a knack for walking the line
between complete lyrical frivolity and topical poignancy. No songwriting moment
on 200 Million mimics the timeliness
of Good Bad’s “O Katrina!” but “Big
Black Baby Jesus of Today” certainly doesn’t shy away from controversy. Even
the seemingly lighthearted “Drugs” touches on a theme that seems to pop up
repeatedly in the band’s material. One of the final lines of the song — which also discusses cruising around, taking drugs and hanging out with
friends — says, “I hope they follow me,” expressing a wish that these good times
(and the people that constitute them) will last forever. It mirrors the end of
“Transcendental Light,” the final track from Good Bad, and maybe at its core reflects a fundamental anxiety
about the fact that the carefree life can only be an ephemeral one.
It’s an interesting argument
coming from a band known for its insane live show. The Black Lips have made a profession out of
putting their audience in the moment, of slurring speech and acting altered,
but now they seem to point out that they’re not really as aimless as all that.
The initially nearly tuneless "Starting Over" even devolves into an
anthemic, clear guitar outro, more soaring than most of what they've produced
in the past. Maybe the constant touring and playing to larger and larger
audiences (not to mention sheer age and experience) have widened their scope.
While never forgetting to reference early rock 'n' roll, the Black Lips always
build upwards from it. With 200 Million
Thousand, they've created another, more mature, ode to the modern night.
The Black Lips will
celebrate the release of their album at the Variety Playhouse this Friday, February
27 with Atlas Sound and Gentleman Jesse and His Men. They’ll also play an
in-store performance at Criminal Records Tuesday, February 24 at 5 p.m.