The Black Lips – 200 Million Thousand

Print Rating: ★★★½☆

The Black Lips have recently gotten more acclaim, or seemingly so, for their exploits off the stage.  They’re followed around like the Paris Hilton of the indie world, but the questions that follow should really pertain to the quality of their music. It’s clear that their a ramshackle bunch of lads, but when that carries over to their music, can we follow along? 200 Million Thousand attempts to answer that question.

It’s really hard to find a ground from which to approach this album.  Sure, the obvious psychedelia surrounds the band, not to mention the garage quality that has been there from the beginning of the band’s climb into our record collections. All these qualities point to an album worthy of critical acclaim, but only if the band can bring it all together.

Here, they don’t quite execute.  There are some clear misses on the album, such as the vocal quality.  Every time this band releases an album, it seems as if they shy away from the singing being a focal point. When you come across a song like “Starting Over” or “Old Man,” it seems as if they might unleash some hidden vocal talent, but its just not there.  The rest is hazily smothered in shadowy production, disguising the vocal for the most part.

Then, you come face to face with the fact that the band finally seems to have gotten a cohesive sound together, but the sound just doesn’t quite seem original.  It’s shrouded in the past of bands like The Velvet Underground and The Rolling Stones. Are they trying to be ironic by miming some of the most heralded acts around or is this an honest representation of who the band truly is as a group?  The answer is certainly difficult to come by, so one must take the songs into account.

“Drugs” is a California surf-pop romper, fueled by the twang of the guitar.  Even with the shotty vocal effects, you still can feel the catchiness of the song as the group sings in unison. And of course, that is followed by the super “Starting Over,” which may very well be one of the best songs that we hear all year.  There is an inexplicable quality to the song that wins you over as soon as the guitar comes in during the opening moment.

Interestingly, there is also a soul tinge on this record, which may display some of the more banal qualities of the group as a whole, but the power of such songs is undeniable.  “I’ll Be With You” is the song you expect to hear when watching a scene from the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance.  It’s got that classic Buddy Holly guitar sound, but with a more juvenile approach to songwriting.  It’s earnest, and it deserves appreciation.

At the end of the album, you have to take the Black Lips for precisely what they are: a gaggle of ruffians eager to write soulful psychedelia that they hope wins your heart.  It might not be the most original piece of work to ever come our way, but rest assured there are a bunch of songs here worthy of high praise.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/10-old-man.mp3]

Download: The Black Lips – Old Man [MP3]

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