Black Lips: 200MillionThousand


Black Lips: 200MillionThousand

Comedy in music is a double edged sword, irony a rubber mallet. Particularly if your influences aren’t immediately apparent, and crossing your fingers while hoping the audience are in on the gags isn’t always going to make for entertaining live shows. And some truly great rock n roll is already well beyond satire.

Basically, Black Lips is the garage band that never quite made it out of the garage, and 200MillionThousand sounds a lot like a recently discovered cache of demo tapes from the late 60s and 70s, the collected works of a bunch of never-were’s who all promptly got proper jobs two months after aborting their album sessions. This idea is kept going quite consistently over the fifty or so minutes that make up the album, the grubby production style (up to and including faked vinyl scratches) giving each and every track on the album the sound quality you’d expect of some decades old cassette that you’d found in a dust filled attic.

The actual music is a bit cleverer than this idea though. Black Lips are able to both faithfully emulate some annoyingly nearly-recognisable sixties and seventies styles while using the one-take demo approachto give their own 3 chord song structures an air of immediacy that prevents the album from sliding too quickly into the pit marked “slavish recreation”. Songs such as “Short Fuse” for example, whose echoing guitar is interspersed with some darkly effective one-note keyboard, and “I’ll Be With You”, which could slip almost unnoticed onto the Velvet Undergrounds VU album.  Plenty reverb on the vocals gives the song an added 4-track authenticity, and that, I suppose, is the real point about Black Lips. Who needs 48 track sequencing anyway? Two fuzz pedals and an echo chamber is all the production anyone Black Lips listen to ever needed. There is more though.  Black Lips doesn’t stop at regurgitating some of CBGB’s finer moments and as the album progresses the musical styles on display spread to include languid country riffs that recall Green On Red and even Pete Buck, the deeper and darker tones of blues influenced swamp rock, and by the time we reach final track “I Saw God” Black Lips creative visions are somehow fully realised –  the sound of a parallell universe where Wayne Coyne was a member of Television and Tav Falco plays stadiums.

Comedy isn’t perhaps the best description for what Black Lips are really about. Years of studying the classics of swamp rock and garagepunk RnB, and realising that these bands had to get results in the studio in more inventive ways than are often in use nowadays has somehow created a monstrous combination of retro styling and madcap eccentricities whose lineage it is possible to trace all the way back to the maniac satires of The Fugs. Black Lips probably doesn’t even care if its audiences applaud or not, but some of us will, definitely.