Having gained popularity through their absurd live shows—which usually involve severe inebriation, prevalent nudity, osculation between band members, and nearly every bodily fluid imaginable—it’s not surprising that the Black Lips might find it difficult to convey that same intensity on a studio album.
On the band’s latest release, “200 Million Thousand,” they try desperately to be as defiant and rebellious as ever, but what emerges is a stale form of the eccentric garage punk they’ve produced in the past. However, when the band stops trying to force this sense of free-spiritedness and opts instead to write songs that actually show some form of inspiration, the appeal of their studio work can be found.
The Atlanta-based Black Lips have adamantly defined their music as “flower punk,” implying a paradoxical combination of emotion and energy, but their fifth studio album is composed mostly of trite, standard punk-rock songs that seem only to scream the message that the band is still full of teenage angst. The song “Take My Heart” opens the album with a hackneyed blues guitar riff and the whiney, gruff singing of frontman Cole Alexander. “Big Black Baby Jesus Of Today” continues these blunt statements of rebellion while adding in some maracas to compensate for the slower pace. Full of standard guitar riffs, simple rock beats, and sapless whining, these songs lacks any real substance and raise the question of whether or not the Black Lips are really as label bending as they claim to be.
“Short Fuse” emerges mid-album like a mirage through the barren rubble of mediocre punk-rock anthems. The upbeat, danceable song still sounds like a high school band performing at a talent show, but such earnestness comes across well. Even though it does little exciting instrumentally, the lighter song works to spark the sometimes apparent energy of the offbeat band, especially when the piano bridge enters the fray. This hint of inspiration is then corroborated with “Drugs,” which presents the dichotomy of an upbeat 50s pop tune with distorted guitar and crackling vocals.
“Old Man” begins with a heavy reliance on a dreary guitar and keyboard dirge. The first half presents an anthemic quality that would have been fitting in such rock-parodies as Spinal Tap; yet halfway through the song, the chorus takes a cheery psychedelic turn. The album’s most unexpected success, “The Drop I Hold,” features Alexander sing-speaking over a lazy quasi-hip-hop guitar riff. The mix of the eerie synthesizer and subtle piano licks gives rise to a sense of pensiveness not heard on other tracks.
Though it slightly builds cohesion as it goes along, the album lacks much substance or integrity. “200 Million Thousand” is as contradictory as the “flower punk” mantra, featuring tediously rebellious punk-rock anthems with several truly genre-blending gems interspersed. When the Black Lips adhere to their own descriptions and are able to carefully mix the beauty with the ugly, the bright with the dreary, the album is as full of energy as their concert debauchery. But when they fall short of this claim of complexity, all that is left is wailing verses and juvenile instrumentation. Without the flower, you just have more run-of-the-mill punk.