BLACK LIPS: BLACK LIPS! (2003)
1) Throw It Away; 2) Freakout; 3) Ain't No Deal; 4) Stone Cold; 5) I've Got A Knife; 6) Down And Out; 7) Steps; 8) Fad; 9) Sweet Kin; 10) Crazy Girl; 11) Everybody Loves A Cocksucker; 12) Can't Get Me Down; 13) You're Dumb; 14*) Say Hello To The Postman.
For a band whose members are known not to be above vomiting onstage and strumming their guitars with their reproductive male organs well in front of their audiences, Black Lips made their self-titled debut album sound surprisingly tame in comparison. What is even more surprising, though, is that it sounds like nothing else — even if it is perfectly easy segmentable into a nifty sum of its influences. All of the songs are forgettable — but the impression is not.
These guys come from Dunwoody, Georgia, and are a fine example of «going against the grain»: instead of the expected country and Southern rock influences, they arrogantly take their lessons straight from Nuggets-era garage rock. In fact, probably the best description for this early sound of theirs is — this is what the Count Five, the Standells, the Strangeloves etc. would have sounded like, had modern freedom of expression and hardcore punk ideology been developed around 1965 rather than a decade and a half later. Imagine a Gene Vincent infected by the mentality of a Metallica, or a Dave Clark Five playing with the psychology of a Weezer. Black Lips, then, are a cross between the Seeds, Sonic Youth, and Agnostic Front.
And I do mean it. The snotty, wheezy vocals; the jangly guitars, way too «thin» and wimpy for modern standards; the simple, sloppy drumwork that tries to compensate only through energy and aggression — even most of the «nu-garage» bands do not play that authentic. More than half of these songs are decodable as not coming from the Sixties through one single weak spot: they are almost completely hookless. Beyond setting the basic three-chord (sometimes, one-chord) groove, the Lips rarely advance to anything other than just degenerating into random noise. This is something that few mid-Sixties garage groups could be accused of – at least, few that history let us know about, for obvious reasons.
But it's not as if the Lips are incapable of hooks (an idea that later albums would dispel): this is a conscious choice, and this is where «modern mentality» steps in — hooks are nothing, attitude is everything. We know that attitude: run your spirit through channels of pure enthusiasm and spontaneous insanity ('Steps', mad deconstructed surf-rock drowned in wild party noises). They are so focused on the attitude that, after a while, it almost becomes contagious to the point that you start distinguishing hooks where you'd swear they weren't present just a few minutes ago (like the awesome slide guitar onslaught on 'Fad').
Bits of diversity are supplied by occasional raids on territories adjacent to fast-paced noisy garage punk: 'Stone Cold' is a slow, stuttering, two-minute-long «moody» blues-rocker à la early Animals, and 'Down And Out' is an eerie, smoky vaudeville piece with «evil» vocals, whose combination of monotonous power chords and suspicious electric piano in the background might even have been appreciated by the likes of Tom Waits. Then there is a philosophically-minded slow creeper in the vein of Lou Reed, appropriately titled 'Everybody Loves A Cocksucker'. Yeah... right. It is the second-longest track on the album, hence, a real focal piece.
Overall, I have no idea who are the people to whose interests this whole deal is targeted. Sixties fans will find it too tuneless and noisy, Eighties fans will find it too post-modern and insincere, and Noughties fans will find it way too overdone in its sucking up to retro values. All of which makes Black Lips! a completely timeless experience, rewardable with a thumbs up for no particular reason. Maybe in ten years I'll think of one.
Technical note: This is the only Black Lips album recorded with the participation of the band's first guitarist, Ben Eberbaugh, killed in a car accident prior to the release. So if you happen to complain about the lack of 'Fad'-like guitar parts on their subsequent records, keep that in mind.
Check "Black Lips!" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Black Lips!" (MP3) on Amazon