BLACK LIPS: LET IT BLOOM (2005)
1) Sea Of Blasphemy; 2) Can't Dance; 3) Boomerang; 4) Hippie, Hippie, Hoorah; 5) Not A Problem; 6) Gung Ho; 7) Everybody's Doin' It; 8) Feeling Gay; 9) Take Me Home (Back To Boone); 10) Gentle Violence; 11) She's Gone; 12) Fairy Stories; 13) Dirty Hands; 14) Workin'; 15) Punk Slime; 16) Empassant.
The Lips' third album seems to be titled much more modestly than their second (although still dealing with the same issue) — but this is a false impression, since any title like that brings on inevitable associations with Let It Be and Let It Bleed, meaning that this is really an arrogant statement of purpose if there ever was one. Or, at least, a tongue-in-cheek arrogant statement of purpose. In any case, it commands attention — in a gambling way.
And admittedly, I admit that it is a heart-warming improvement. The band steps back on the noise, just a little bit, opening the window just enough to let in some of that melodic spirit of the 1960s, while at the same time still keeping the production values and the playing style very lo-fi; at the same time, the diversity is back, with garage-blues-rock occasionally giving way to folk-rock, dark blues, and hooliganish R'n'B à la early Stones. (Not a lot of diversity, of course, but still feeling like The White Album after the boring monotonous noise of We Did Not Know).
Hence the predictable question: now that we see some songwriting going on, how does it compare — both to the band's debut album, and to their influences? On the first point, I would say that the songs are a half-notch more interesting and involving, but the sound is still a whole notch dirtier and noisier, so that only a properly initiated adept of the lo-fi ideology will like them when they are playing this-a-way more than when they were playing that-a-way. On the second point, they are still nowhere near close to competing with their garage ancestors in terms of inventive hooks. Not that they claim to be competing, of course.
So, in the end, once again it all comes down to the idea of «reviving and modernizing garage values for the intelligent segment of white trash in 2005». And the fun of it lies, of course, in realizing that most of these songs could not be recorded in 1966 — it takes decades of additional development (and even brain growth) to produce these results.
'Can't Dance', for instance, takes a speedy «punk-metal» chord sequence that sounds suspiciously close to 'Mötorhead' (the song), and only then proceeds to dress it up in 1960s' guitar and vocal tones. 'Not A Problem' makes a joke on reasons that drive us to homicidal tendencies ("I woke up in the morning just the other day, found my dog beneath the Chevrolet") – one that probably would not be tolerated or understood in 1966, nor would people be necessarily hip to the song's maddening combo of thin jangly guitar driven to non-existence by deafening fuzz noise. But, again, the fuzz, the jangle, and the lead vocals are all as retro as they come.
Word problems would also surface as early as on the titles to 'Feeling Gay' and 'Fairy Stories' — both of these songs have their prototypes in the Stones ('Heart Of Stone' and 'Rocks Off', respectively), but their messages, whatever they are, are intended for modern audiences. On the other hand, 'Dirty Hands' starts off like the Ramones' 'I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend', then quickly becomes something like one of those early pop ballads by Manfred Mann — and if you were worrying about the meaning of the title, well, the hands happen to be dirty simply because it's an innocent story about love on the beach.
Whether these quirky little twists on the quirky little twists of days gone by are enough to justify Let It Bloom's existence — that is not for me to decide. It's a fun album, a curious album, a listenable album, but so far, I have been unable to convince myself that it is also an unforgettable album. As far as I am concerned, The Black Lips are still playing childhood games here, and in a way that, either consciously or unintentionally, prevents grown-ups from discerning just how much real talent and artistic drive there is behind the entertainment masks. Fortunately for us and them, childhood would soon be over.
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