The Black Lips: Arabia Mountain Review (Double Take)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are two reactions, two impressions, Two Takes on Arabia Mountain by The Black Lips.
The new Black Lips album contains some of my favorite new Lips tunes to date – with “Family Tree,” “Mr. Driver,” “Bicentennial Man,” as well as “Noc-A-Homa” creating the basis for a strong record. The occasional saxophone really gives Arabia a menacing new sound (particularly in “Family Trees”) even if it makes (perhaps) too few appearances. Famed British producer Mark Ronson makes his presence felt on the new album by giving it a shiny pop veneer. While this works well on some of the raunchy, R&B-inflected numbers, on the more garage pop songs it has the opposite effect. In tunes like “Modern Art,” and “New Direction” the sound just seems a little too clean (even if the lyrics are not). Still, Arabia is generally a pretty cohesive collection with only a small amount of filler in its sixteen songs. Personally I will be more interested in hearing these live since I think that the Black Lips’ energy/weirdness will be better experienced outside the constricted confines of Ronson’s engineering.
Many longtime fans of the Black Lips were understandably worried when word came out that the group would be working with pop music producer Mark Ronson on their new album Arabia Mountain. The scuzzy flower punk group has carved out a niche by releasing lo-fi albums and creating havoc in the life setting, building a pretty big fan base along the way, but this move gives the impression they are setting their sights even higher.
Both supporters and naysayers will have some ammo to work with on Arabia Mountain. The ear for garage rock gems is still present on the LP, especially on tracks like “Bicentenial Man,” but there are also moments of head scratching on the record. I would be remiss to blame Ronson for any of the poppier moments on the record, especially considering the band didn’t get led into the studio with a gun to their heads. The most damning part is that the group decided to hook up with someone who seems to be the antithesis of their punk, fuck the world ethos. With songs like “Bone Marrow” I have a hard time blaming Ronson when it was the band who wrote the boring track. The group still sound like garage rock worshipers of Los Saicos and 13th Floor Elevators, so at least they have that going for them. Arabia isn’t their best work, but fans can rest assured it isn’t a complete cop out that some feared when the news of the album dropped. No matter who produces their album, the band probably forever will be known for their live shows, so as long as they don’t go completely off the deep end I will at least come back to know the songs I will be hearing when they come through town.