The Black Lips’ musical talent somehow surpasses its considerable reputation for debauchery. That’s saying a lot for a band that has been banned from multiple concert venues in L.A. for its members making out onstage and allegedly peeing into each others’ mouths.
With 200 Million Thousand, the Black Lips has departed from what could have become a more commercialized sound that was showcased in its last release, and the band found itself inside a weirdly awesome blend of ’60s psychedelic garage rock that sounds something like Iggy Pop fronting late-period Beach Boys playing Byrds covers recorded on an 8-track. That is to say, the sound combines all the best elements of punk and garage rock into an album that manages to be sonically diverse without sacrificing its identity.
“Drugs,” the second song on the album, doubles as its catchiest, taking music straight from “Grease” and pasting a song about cruising around in Barracudas and smoking weed from British Columbia to create a track that conjures up images of the most garage rock summer ever. Picture James Dean with the top down impressing girls by rebelling without cause at his local high school and you have a pretty good idea about how this song sounds.
In the most radical departure from the Lips’ sound, “The Drop I Hold” is something like a more ethereal version of early-period Wu-Tang; it’s garage rock as produced by GZA, dipped in promethazine, with ghosts for backup singers. The track is complete with beat-boxing and even some primitive white-boy-rocker rapping, which is sort of charming because it’s so amateurish and also totally works.
Another song that sounds straight out of the ’60s is “I’ll Be With You,” which is pretty reminiscent of a track that might play during a scene in a romantic comedy where the guy is leafing through old photos of him with the girl and it’s getting a little dusty in there. Really, it’s about bromance, which places it pretty high on the list of quality songs about bromance ever recorded. Actually, I think it is the list.
The oddly epic and unbelievably psychedelic “Trapped in a Basement” is about being, well, trapped in a basement. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” comes to mind, with the Lips as the psychopathic killer getting back at its evil dad who locked him away after promising him all the weed brownies and magic mushrooms he could eat. This song would really be kind of scary if you played it while watching “The Silence of the Lambs.” It puts the distortion on the guitars or it gets the hose.
The best term to describe this record is shambolic. It has the feel of something your stoner friend might play for you on maximum volume with headphones on but occasionally flashes of pure punk energy and violence poke through the psychedelic haze to make a truly exciting sound.
Although the singing duties are split up more democratically among the group than in the past, all the vocals except for the ones on “The Drop I Hold” have a wailed quality, but filtered through a wall of static, making for an even more primal effect that sounds basically like Cole Alexander et al. are being force-fed cigarettes and whiskey until they can’t sing anymore.
For all the wonderment of the studio sound of the Black Lips, it has to be seen live to truly appreciate its monkey-on-crack energy levels and unrestrained sexuality. Go, but be prepared to see genitals, dudes kissing and general mayhem onstage (and probably a fair bit in the audience).
It is rare that a band departs from its sound on the verge of a potential breakthrough to release an album that is at least forty years out of step with mainstream commercial taste and even rarer for that “weird” record to be anything but a harbinger of future failure, but the Black Lips has done just that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to “Drugs” on repeat and rock out until I give myself a concussion.