I’m not quite sure of the equation, but it’s something like this: Fashion defines style and style begets attitude. Or at least that’s what they told me at Hot Topic when I couldn’t decide between the leather wrist cuff and the studded belt. “Well, what kind of punk do you want to be?” the salesperson asked. I was far too confused. I thought punk was all about expressing yourself as you saw fit, not the right accessories. Does this mean I have to find my punk look before seeing a Black Lips show? I’ve heard their shows are crazy: drums set on fire, puking, guitar solos played with penises. But the Black Lips don’t sound like leather-cuff punk or studded-belt punk, so what do I do?
If the Black Lips were from London, New York or Los Angeles, that might be an easier decision. But the members had to make it difficult and hail from Atlanta, a place I associate more with hip-hop and strip clubs than punk rock. And the music on Let It Bloom doesn’t help, either. The band’s first two albums (Black Lips! in 2003 and We Did Not Know the Forest Made The Spirit Flowers Grow in 2004) were rawer and far easier to pin down. Sure, there’s a dirty production element to Let It Bloom, but the heavier emphasis on ’60s garage rock makes the sound more akin to the Sonics than Minor Threat. What kind of fashion accessory goes with garage punk? Tattoos are too rockabilly. Mohawks are too retro punk. Mod isn’t even close.
Maybe I’m making too big of a deal out of this, but Let It Bloom is by far the Black Lips’ best record, and if I’m going to act like I know, I need to look like I know. I unearthed a few clues when I took a deeper look at some of the album’s best songs. “Dirty Hands,” with its Motown innuendos, offers the idea that maybe it’s best to look unkempt: “We’ll do whatever/ because you’re gonna do what you wanna do/ Hands, do you really wanna hold my dirty hand?” Then there’s “Hippie, Hippie, Hoorah,” with its half-cocked swaggering lyrics and sloshing guitar that suggest it’s more of a drunk-hippie-punk look. Maybe there’s a hidden message in “Boomerang,” but I got too caught up in the simple but catchy chord progressions to even care.
Just when I was ready to give up, it hit me: It’s the kind of punk that doesn’t need a fashion accessory, because it’s all attitude. I can look however I want as long as it’s authentic, just like the Black Lips music. Let It Bloom works because it doesn’t fall into punk clichés. It’s an original punk interpretation of early ’60s garage rock, but it captures the raw, youthful attitude of rock ‘n’ roll and does it without pretensions. That’s punk. If only I could explain this part of the equation to the folks at Hot Topic.
Black Lips Web site