Black Lips: 200 Million Thousand

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Black Lips: <em>200 Million Thousand </em>

Atlanta's flower punks follow their breakthrough release by heading back to the garage
Possibly the most proletariat of all rock forms, garage rock hasn’t produced many acts as flamboyant as Black Lips, the Atlanta, Ga., quartet that was recently chased out of India for being a bit too provocative (read: man-on-man kissing) on stage. That fuck-all attitude has largely characterized their body of work, a five-album oeuvre that has lifted them from genre-enthusiast obscurity and culminated with 200 Million Thousand, a release that continues their life on the margins by further vulgarizing their mix of surf riffs, girl-group hooks, and lo-fi psych. Given the strides made by 2007’s surprisingly polished Good Bad Not Evil, the young “flower punks” (AKA: hippies playing with punk-rock energy) might be poised for a commercial breakthrough, but this album proves they’re in no mood for concessions.Even groggier and soggier than before, the appeal of 200 Million Thousand is as intuitive as it is immediate, from the giddy handclaps and sour harmonies of “Drugs” to the plaintive, early Velvet Underground haze of “Starting Over,” the first song celebrating substance use while the latter repents. Where most of the garage rock rank-and-file are all too pleased to kick out the jams with uniform predictability, the Black Lips ooze an oddly viscous charisma and greasy Southern theatricality. With disorienting backmasking, bits of movie dialogue, and unexpectedly bleeped-out words, “I Saw God” is both a conceptual train wreck and a glorious oddball experiment, just as the funeral parlor organs and possessed vocals of “Trapped in the Basement” recall the leftfield dramas of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The album eventually bogs down in the swaying soar-throat balladry of “I’ll Be with You” and a series of slurring power chord anthems that sound like they are only waiting for an ad exec to drop them in a car commercial. Taken song-by-song, it’s an undeniably enjoyable set, but as an album, it rambles on toward a sense of climax it never quite reaches.
As nearly every town in the United States has a garage band of some sort, the margin between the very good and the simply mediocre is thin, and for every Jack White, there are thousands of kids with distortion pedals that never even make the stage of their greasiest local bar. Black Lips have closed that margin by being just a bit smarter, a bit weirder, and a bit more audacious than their peers. Which is to say they're willing to start a riot if need be. The disappointment, then, is that 200 Million Thousand falls somewhere between a riot and a soundtrack for a Sunday drive, too big for the garage but not quite ready for India, either.
Listen to Black Lips on the band's imeem page.