THE BLACK LIPS – 200 Million Thousand (2009)

The Black Lips - 200 Million Thousand As far as the garage rock resurgence goes, The White Stripes have the edge over most everyone else – hell, they were the final musical guest on Late Night With Conan O’Brien (I know, I know, everyone knows this, and it’s been discussed repeatedly, but it still speaks volumes, no?). But for every one-note concert The White Stripes might make, The Black Lips are ready to counter with some warped stage assault like this.

So maybe the White Stripes have more competition than I thought. Both bands released albums in 2007 that could stand shoulder to shoulder against each other (these being The White Stripes’ Icky Thump and The Black Lips’ Good Bad Not Evil). But whereas The White Stripes have been progressing since Elephant, experimenting with bass marimba melodies, weird organ solos and slew of other things, The Black Lips seem to be doing the opposite. Good Bad Not Evil had that classically indescribable garage rock sound, but it wasn’t overdone; it was just warm enough to feel lived in, and that’s all it needed to be. 200 Million Thousand, on the other hand, sounds like it was recorded in a storage locker in Hell. It’s cramped, sepulchral and hazy, like someone took the album masters and rolled them around in 50 year old varnish and sawdust. It almost makes Titus Andronicus’ The Airing of Grievances sound clean (almost).

I can’t help but wonder, “Is this really necessary?” Yes, it’s oddly charming (to a point, anyways) but necessary? I just don’t know. The songs aren’t bad here – that I do know. But 200 Million Thousand, in it’s eagerness to sound like some recently unearthed 1960’s gem, ends up feeling kind of flat when compared to Good Bad Not Evil; it lacks the dexterity that made that album great; there’s nothing on here that’s got the energy of Navajo or Off The Block (though Drugs almost rises to that level). I think that what 200 Million Thousand does best is raise a question: is a step into the garage a step forward? Answer: we’ll see.

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