The Black Lips
Arabia Mountain (Vice)
Since their days as chaos-reigning noisemakers, legendary for their crowd assaults, spitwads, and general debauchery, into their smooth transition to critically acclaimed “flower-punk” studio craftsmen, the Black Lips have been praised consistently for one attribute: not caring what anyone else thinks.
So for longtime fans, the announcement that the band’s sixth album, Arabia Mountain, was to be produced in large part by Amy Winehouse soul veteran Mark Ronson, was probably something of a shock, if not just cause to flip the sell-out switch. Good news for those worried souls: Arabia is surprisingly un-slick and far from a commercial cry for help. In fact, minus a horn blast or two, it is pretty difficult to trace Ronson’s influence at all. And in a way, that’s a shame. Why team up with a producer coming from the opposite musical pole if you’re not willing to mess with the template?
“Family Tree” bursts through, coated in hazy Nuggets sludge, as if we’ve transported back to the band’s early days. The fuzz lifts on the ’60s-style pop of “Modern Art,” the only track here that manages to work simply for melody’s sake. Elsewhere, there is Byrds-ish 12-string jangle (the Peter Parker-themed “Spidey’s Curse”), surf rock (“Mad Dog”), and skippable garage stillborns like “Bone Marrow” and lead single “Bicentennial Man.” (It’s a bad sign when the most arresting track, “The Lie,” cops its main riff from “Stairway to Heaven.”)
In comparison to the eclectic, rainbow-hued Good Bad Not Evil, the Black Lips’ 2007 breakout, Arabia Mountain feels monochromatic. For a band with so much promise of shaking things up, the Lips seem content with a half-assed step sideways.