Big Black Baby Jesus of Today

If you took Raw Power-era Iggy Pop and threw him in a blender with Creedence Clearwater Revival, Murmur-era R.E.M., and a Muppet punk band, you might come up with something that sounds kinda like The Black Lips. The Black Lips trade in a very pleasing form of raucous musical buffoonery that’s somehow never really played for laughs, despite the hilarity of songs like “Bad Kids,” from 2007’s Good Bad Not Evil. I’ve read somewhere that they call their style of music “flower punk,” but I’m content to keep calling it “Muppet punk.”

The Lips are back (in Black, har har) with the appropriately absurdly titled 200 Million Thousand, a murkier, muddier, druggier disc than its predecessor. Which is mostly a good thing. Consider – there are a lot of bands out there that strive for a certain lack of neatness in their songs, but they typically lack the balls to just lose control- or, if they do, it comes out sounding like shit. The Black Lips have an uncanny ability to play sloppy, loud, and with an impressive looseness and still make good songs.

200 Million Thousand (still a better album title than Wavvves) starts with the chugging “Take My Heart,” and works its way to the surprisingly poppy “Starting Over,” which features a guitar riff right out of Peter Buck’s playbook. But if “Starting Over” is one of the few pop moments on 200 Million Thousand, you wouldn’t know it from the vocals, which are wonderfully shambolic and come off as more than a little intoxicated. You get the feeling that the song’s narrator has pledged to start over every night for the last ten years, only to continue his habit of getting piss-drunk and pledging to change his (good, bad, not) evil ways.

“Starting Over” is followed by “Let It Grow” and the truly fucked up “Trapped in a Basement,” which the Lips claim in the liner notes to be based on the true story of a girl who was locked in the basement by her dad, a dude named Josef Fritzl,  so he could have incestuous sex with her. Apparently, Fritzl (which is German for “Incestuous Baby Fucker” – look it up) also fathered seven kids with his “favorite girl.” This story is too fucked up to be fiction as far as I’m concerned.

“Side B” of the album (they make the distinction on the CD, and why not?) starts with “Big Black Baby Jesus of Today,” and it’s worth just quoting the liner notes for this one at length: “This song is a testament to the coming of the black messiah. I imagine him something like a mix between Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Jack Johnson, and Barack Obama.” For those of you who are confused, the Jack Johnson referred to is the early 20th century boxer, not the white, surfer who is his generation’s Jimmy Buffet (if you think that’s a compliment, you don’t know me very well). That being the case, when the black messiah comes, I think I’ll finally be joining a religion. By the way, if they ever start handing out awards for Best Liner Notes, I hereby nominate 200 Million Thousand. As if the notes for “Big Black Baby Jesus” weren’t awesome enough, here’s what they have to say about “Body Combat”: “Just when you thought you knew all the answers, we go back and change the questions. When we get done with you it’s gonna look like we set fire to your face and put it out with an axe.”

200 Million Thousand never really gets off track, unless you pay too much attention to the half-assed rap of “The Drop I Hold,” the Lips’ attempt to bring  “newer, bolder, faster, trendsetting demographics for the global computer youth of today!” The liner note is better than the whole song, but the song is forgivably brief. The bonus track “Meltdown” can be a little trying as well.

The late, great Lester Bangs wrote passionately about bands like Iggy and the Stooges, praising them for their willingness to make big, dumb, primitive rock ‘n’ roll without putting on any airs. Arguments can and will be made about which current bands Bangs might like (I’ll give you a hint – none of them are Interpol), but if you told me to pick just one, I’d tell you it was The Black Lips. That, of course, doesn’t mean that you have to like them (or 200 Million Thousand) just because Zombie Lester Bangs would, but if you like what Bangs liked about rock ‘n’ roll and are tired of shiny, overproduced, safe rock music, you might do well to pick up a Black Lips album and see what Muppet punk is all about.

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2 thoughts on “Big Black Baby Jesus of Today

  1. Hi this blog is great I will be recommending it to friends.

  2. I found this review looking up the lyrics for big black baby jesus. You don’t hear many references to Jack Johnson these days, so thanks for including the lyric liner notes about the song. Great review of the album.

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