Whether you think that the whole ’getting kicked out of India’ thing was badass or an elaborate publicity stunt, it shows us Atlanta’s craziest dudes are not growing up completely yet. 2007’s Good Bad Not Evil found the Lips' music cleaned up considerably, and was their poppiest record in comparison to past work. 200 Million Thousand sees them focusing their retro sound even more without being formulaic, and not relying as much on comedy while still being fun.
Where the Black Lips’ early work was raucous mic-clipping, Stooges-inspired chaos, lately the boys have stepped back further back into the `60s (or further still) while keeping the punk edge and refusing to clean up completely. “Take My Heart” kicks things off with a dirty early Stones guitar jangle. Like many tracks to come, guitarist Cole Alexander’s vocals have the distortion back on ‘em and the reverb is cranked up, so the words are less understandable than on Good Bad (though not as bad as on their early work), making it a bit harder to connect with certain songs. But this lo-fi vocal feel works wonders for tracks like “Starting Over,” which kicks ass and sounds like something off of Velvet Underground & Nico from the production, guitar tone and buried glockenspiel to the backing group vocals answering each line. “Drugs” reeks of the Sonics, with vocals by bassist Jared Swilley. “I’ll Be with You” sways like an early rock 'n’ roll ballad (maybe something by Buddy Holly or of the “Earth Angel” variety) sung at a karaoke bar by a guy who’s had a few and is way too into it.
Along with “Starting Over,” “Short Fuse” is my favorite here, with a driving beat and drummer Joe Bradley on lead vocals. That song is one of the catchiest, but overall the songs here are a bit less simple in their hooks than on Good Bad. Then there’s the solemn groove of “The Drop I Hold,” which is basically a hip-hop track with its spoken vocals and background sample.
The band always throws in at least one genre piece or just-plain-odd track on each album, and “Trapped in a Basement” fills that role here with its slow sway and those low vocals, complete with evil cackling. Closer “I Saw God” is another weird one, a slow spoken-word piece that finds Alexander cursing, belching mid-lyric and talking about marijuana and his aversion to discipline in his youth, all with some random backward tape bits. It builds to close out the album. These tracks make for a diverse set, but neither would fit in my list of favorites.
While I haven’t been reeled in vocally by as many songs as I was on Good Bad, with “Bad Kids,” “Cold Hands” and “How Do You Tell a Child Someone Has Died” demanding to be sung along to, I feel that overall this is their strongest and most eclectic set to date, and they have nailed that balance between noise and listenability. 200 Million Thousand shows how the Black Lips are at the top of the garage rock heap (or flower punk heap), a band feeling the era rather than writing to fit a mold.