Black Lips
200 Million Thousand
Vice Records

3 out of 5 stars

It’s difficult to say whether the decision to attend a Black Lips concert is be the best or worst idea ever, but the concert would undoubtedly be a mesmerizing event.

Known for its crazy antics, the band’s history of performance-“enhancing” stunts — including mid-concert make-outs, naked crowd surfing and even the occasional golden shower (yes, they actually pee on the crowd) — certainly makes for a memorable show. Not surprisingly, the Black Lips have often been tagged as more of a circus act than a music group. But under all that bizarreness lies catchy melodies and classic rock compositions. 200 Million Thousand is no exception.

The self-described “flower-punk” band has been terrorizing audiences everywhere since its members met as teenagers in Atlanta. 200 Million Thousand stands as the band’s fifth studio album and, apart from some somber moments, it doesn’t depart much from past material. The album’s lyrics are as bizarre as their stage acts and the sound is a beguiling blend of New York Dolls and The Strokes.

200 Million Thousand kicks off with familiar territory: “Take My Heart” is a fusion of classic rock and punk; “Drugs” is an amped-up surf-rock song so intense it borders on musical parody. “Elijah” replaces the usual lead guitar with plunky piano, and it’s perfectly paired with lead singer Cole Alexander’s spoken vocals that just barely hint at pitch.

“Starting Over” and “I’ll Be With You” are the most pop-inspired cuts on the album. “Starting Over” is charmingly sloppy with lo-fi distortion and jangly, guttural vocals. “I’ll Be With You” could pass as a ’50s love song if it weren’t for Alexander’s rugged vocal delivery style and the song’s subject matter (an ode to bromance) bringing it back to the 21st century.

The album takes a turn for the worse about halfway through with “Old Man.” As the first true attempt at ballad-writing, it marks the album’s descent into delirium. Later tracks feature artsy drones chopped with clips of voice recordings. Mixing bits of old speeches is a well-worn technique, but a touchy one. The clips chosen by Black Lips in the songs “The Drop I Hold” and “I Saw God” are irrelevant to the subject matter and cheapen the tracks’ art-house feel. The band is at its best when it’s scratching up psychedelic hooks — not when it’s waxing philosophical.

Black Lips exudes a distinct old-school vibe throughout much of the album (the same could be said for the rest of their music). With a little cleaning up and a little less distortion, tracks like “Trapped in a Basement” and “Take My Heart” could pass for oldie-but-goodie rock songs from the ’60s (ala The Doors). The band’s distinct knack for mixing pretty melodies and catchy choruses with a raw sound and heavy distortion fashions a lovable mix of nostalgia and nouveau.

Perhaps even more enticing than the release of the new album itself is the press surrounding it. A stop in India on a recent tour promoting 200 Million Thousand ended with the boys of Black Lips fleeing the stage (and the police). By the time of the next morning’s press briefing, the band had been exiled from the country and its whereabouts were unknown. They’ve since emerged safe and sound; but if a band can get banished from a country for doing what it’s doing and keep going strong, it has to be the Black Lips.

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