If wild, scruffy racket is truly the heart of rock n’ roll, then the Black Lips are genre purists, dashing together haplessly assembled songs with a joyous sense of inconsistency. Theirs is a defiantly messy aesthetic, one that often feels like it’s running on pure energy, which makes their status as musical packrats seem all the more essential. The band not only draws from but structures their whole sound around familiar bits and pieces, drawn from all over the rougher end of the musical spectrum, from blues to garage to roots reggae. It’s these familiar influences that make the Black Lips accessible, and it’s their devotion to shredding and stirring them up that saves them from pure pastiche.
The band is famous for their drive, from manic live shows to an amazing 12 sets in three days at 2007’s SXSW, and if the songs on 200 Million Thousand tend to sag at any point they’re saved by their boundless energy. Drawing on another faithful rock n’ roll trope, the Lips pump out songs that are short, loud, and dumb—15 gleeful bursts of noise that race along without a thought in their heads. This has been the band’s staple, yet the album somehow stands out as their sloppiest effort yet, far outdistancing the comparatively spotless Good, Bad, Not Evil, the fuzzed-out, scattershot psych of We Didn’t Know the Forest Spirit Made the Flowers Grow, and their self-titled debut. As formless and distortion-soaked as those albums may have been, they possessed something resembling a uniform sound, one that didn’t vary greatly from song to song. This album has no such restraint, an unfocused quality that nonetheless adds to its chaotic feel.
Whether it’s due to restlessness or distraction, the band cannot be pinned down to one style of genre cribbing. At times they seem to align themselves with the Mark Sultan/King Khan school of garage-funk revivalism, but while this grungy aesthetic pervades, it’s only a part-time fixation. Its dominance in the opening “Take My Heart” quickly gives way to bouncy ska-punk in “Drugs,” which sounds exactly like mid-‘90s-era Rancid, of all things. From “Trapped in a Basement,” which marries trashy garage with a cheesy spoken-word narrative, to the harsh-voiced, loitering rockabilly of “I’ll Be with You” and “Big Black Baby Jesus of Today,” which crawls with the tempo and menace of the Stooges and the vocal style of the Animals, even speed isn’t guaranteed. Outright theft also suits them, as evidenced by the madness of “Drop I Hold,” which layers some bizarrely half-assed rapping and off-key vocals directly over a borrowed country song—a goofy experiment that’s also chilling in its weirdest moments.
This patchwork eventually turns into a sound of its own, a loose mélange of thinly connected styles, as if the band has eaten every lean, messy rock song recorded in the last 50 years and has thrown them all back up. The result is a gleefully presented disaster. One that’s consistently captivating if not irresistible.