SONIC REDUCER Do you believe in magic? Or voodoo? Or the links between ecstasy and long-term memory loss? If you're a firm believer in the last, then you probably can't recall the good ole days of garage rock and no, I'm not talking about '60s snarlers like the Seeds, the Standells, and the Chocolate Watchband nor '80s revivalists like the Fleshtones, the Chesterfield Kings, and Holly Golightly. I'm searching the motley gray matter for that fuzzed-out, lo-fi, house-rockin' turn-of-the-century blast from the early '00s past, the one that teetered forth in the crusty, musty, mop-topped form of the Hives, the Von Bondies, the Vines, the Dirtbombs, the Strokes, the Detroit Cobras, the White Stripes, the Makers, the Datsuns, et al. In '02 you were crap on a cracker if you didn't come with the thes and the esses and the three chords and the loud, plowed, and way-too-gristly grizzly rock 'n' roll.
So where did all the good times go, troglodytes? The initial '60s American garage rock siege was hopped up on the rawboned, blues-indebted British Invaders. But this time around did the bands simply get bored of the same few chords? Or weary of the uniforms? Was it simply another historical hiccup in musical trend cycles, a brief burst of energy fed by pink-slipped creatives and millennial joie de vivre?
Still, longtime listeners know garage rock never quite stops. The ahistorical trendoids who leaped aboard the bandwagon who didn't know your Kingsmen from your Chesterfield Kings or "Louie Louie" from "Talk Talk" may have moved on to the next flavor of the weak. But snotty rock springs eternal like mucus. Among the main remaining perpetrators today are those bone-deep bad boys with one foot in rock's past and another in the future the Black Lips, the kid bros of all of those '00s garage third wavers, who arrived kitted out with a tumescent, prepubescent sense of humor, a hot and sweaty live show, innumerable 7-inches, and now four full-lengths. I remember taking a listen to the Black Lips' first self-titled Bomp! CD four years ago and finding that it rose above the pile of garage-bound by-the-bookers like so much toxic, nonnutritious, black-flecked, punky foam.
The Atlanta group's latest CD, Good Bad Not Evil (Vice), finds them name-checking girl-group matresfamilias right up front looking to a line from the Shangri-Las' "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" with the album title while still plying their grimy tricks: they sing the praises of "Magic City titties," strike pseudoreverent poses with "How Do You Tell the Child That Someone Has Died," and invoke the spirit of Professor Longhair and the 13th Floor Elevators while slamming the "ruthless old bag" that swept through N'awlins on "O Katrina!" The epicenter of Good Bad Not Evil might be "Veni Vidi Vici," punctuated by creepy slaps and skin-crawling licks as vocalist-guitarist Cole Alexander mocks, "Mirror, mirror on the wall / Who's the greatest of them all / My man Muhammad, Boy Jesus too / 'Cause I came, I saw / I conquered all / All y'all, all y'all, all y'all / People look towards Mecca's way / Sistine Chapel people pray / It don't matter what you do / Holy World War will come for you." Call it flower punk, as the Black Lips are wont to do, or conscious garage rock or backpacker bop, but it sounds like the scamps are reaching past the retro toward some real issues these days.
Of course, the Black Lips won't spill the goods. Not that they can, when talking to Alexander, 25, turns out to be an exercise in total frustration. On a mobile and on the move through Indianapolis with the rest of the combo, the vocalist kept dropping out or hanging up betwixt juicy tidbits on dating Osama bin Laden's niece Wafah Dufour ("We discussed making some instrumental tracks and hung out.