BLACK LIPS: 200 MILLION THOUSAND (2009)
1) Take My Heart; 2) Drugs; 3) Starting Over; 4) Let It Grow; 5) Trapped In A Basement; 6) Short Fuse; 7) I’ll Be With You; 8) BBBJOT; 9) Again & Again; 10) Old Man; 11) The Drop I Hold; 12) Body Combat; 13) Elijah; 14) I Saw God; 15) Meltdown (hidden track).
This follow-up to Good Bad Not Evil seems to me to go slightly heavier on fuzziness – as if the band suddenly realized they must have overdone it with cleaning up the slop on the previous record – and seriously lighter on hooks and memorability. Where Good Bad Not Evil almost made me forgot how genuinely mediocre these guys are in the songwriting department, on 200 Million Thousand this mediocrity hits back with a vengeance. At this point, these guys are like the Dave Clark Five's evil twin – «cooler» because they are «nastier», but in other terms, simply furnishing paler, less interesting variations on much stronger pop-rock songs.
Tim Sendra, reviewing the album for the All-Music Guide, ended up complaining about its excessive «maturity», saying that the record «could use a little more teenage head and a little less brains» – that the Lips are really only worth our attention when they are being silly, chaotic, juvenile, and totally trashy. By all means, that was their basic aesthetics when they started out, but first of all, I do not see that it has changed all that much (surely the small bunch of slow, «tense», marginally serious-sounding songs on here, like ʽTrapped In A Basementʼ, cannot be defined as overtly «brainy» in comparison to the fast rock'n'roll numbers), and second, I simply couldn't disagree any more – these guys need to be brainy in order to come up with something truly worth our while. There's way too much brainless retro-punk in this world already.
Unfortunately, 200 Million Thousand is really an album stuck somewhere in between. It does not inject me with a feeling of control-free drunken teenage revelry, nor does it look like a significant intellectual statement, in need of serious analysis or whatever. It is simply another batch of Nuggets rip-offs, if not always in melody, then always in spirit; and it is excruciatingly boring. The only track to offer something relatively fresh to my ears was ʽElijahʼ, a madcap bass-and-piano blues romp with a deliciously paranoid chorus – the interaction between the goofy "oh yeah"s and the stop-and-start piano bits were novel and fun enough to interrupt the slumber party.
I must confess that this may be, once again, just a case of acute lo-fi-itis: I hate this murky production with such a passion that it almost surprises myself (and here I was thinking that I can stand any kind of sound after spending my entire childhood listening to bunches of chewn and re-chewn cassette tapes). The displeasure is particularly intense after Good Bad Not Evil, which was like a teaser, showing that the Lips (a) do not really have any religiously motivated feelings against a clean sound and (b) seem to produce better hooks when they are working with clean production. And now we are back to square.
Perhaps a quick run through the first few tracks is in order, just to serve up a few concrete examples. ʽTake My Heartʼ is fast, dark, bass-heavy, Count Five-ish, but the guitars sound choked and stuffy as opposed to razor-sharp, which should really be expected on such a track. ʽDrugsʼ is a garage take on Merseybeat with Beatlesque vocal harmonies, but the melody is primitive, and the guitars sound... right, choked and stuffy. ʽStarting Overʼ begins with a nice promise – some Byrdsey jangle – but adds nothing to the basic idea of the jangle, except for some more choked and stuffy guitar playing. ʽLet It Growʼ is an anthemic ode to an embryo (or, perhaps, to an erection – you never know with these guys) whose potential hook is tortured to death by overreliance on distortion and the fact that the lead singer has a plastic bag on his head. And so on and on, ad infinitum – these complaints will all mostly be of the same character.
The bottomline is: these songs are not hopeless, but each of them could be so much more if only the band would not mask its laziness and carelessness as «artistry». Let me say this once more: Lo-Fi is not artistry, at least – not in frickin' two thousand and nine it isn't. It used to be cool once, as the underground's proud and vengeful answer to the bloated overproduction of mainstream commercial crap, but these days, it is not just boring, it is almost conservative in nature. Somebody please phone Sir George Martin, while he is still alive, and tell him there is this semi-talented flower punk band that is in desperate need of salvation. Until then – a decisive thumbs down. (And, before I forget: ʽI Saw Godʼ might just be the single stupidest and draggiest thing recorded by these guys so far. Totally with Tim Sendra on that one).
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