It should be mentioned that out of the four members that make up the Black Lips, three of them are singers. This in an attribute that's worked in extreme favor for the band in the past, as the overall sound of garage rock can sometimes get a little bland, so the idea of placing different voices and tones alongside each other is an easy way to introduce a variety most bands lack. On the new album Arabia Mountain, the Lips three singing members—Cole Alexander, Jared Swilley, and Joe Bradley—continue to give the band a unique and special sound. But what's different this time around is the apparent absence of the blatant and mostly out of place distortion that overtook the singers' voices on their previous records. So who do we have to thank for this newfound accessibility? Well, we're not psychic or anything, but we think maybe the introduction of super-producer Mark Ronson might have had something to do with it.
The idea of putting Mark Ronson and the Black Lips together in the studio sounds like a weird, abstract dream. But while the pairing may seem odd, it ended up being a match made in heaven. On Arabia Mountain, Ronson finds a way to harness the bands energy, while maintaining their electric, lo-fi sound, resulting in a new realm of sound for The Black Lips to thrive in.
The LP has a refined 60s pop sound that makes it fun to listen to. "Spidey's Curse" comes across as sugary surf punk, while "Go Out" and "Get It" captures the essence of garage rock while fusing it with pop sensibility. The song "Bicentennial Man" is a blast from the past of late-60s garage rock and "Raw Meat" is irresistibly buoyant, featuring corky lyrics about uncooked delicacies. The reverb and fuzz effects that distinguished the Lips past efforts still make appearances on the album, but in a much more distilled way. Although the band claims flower rock to be their sound, this album finds them crossing over into many other fields including Brit-pop ("Time") and even southern, Lynard Skynard-style rock ("Dumpster Dive"). But even with these new feats, the songs on Arabia Mountain still come across innately accessible, each clocking in under three minutes and having a steady, jovial climb.
More than anything, Ronson helped the Black Lips configure Arabia Mountain into a greater, focused, yet compact garage rock collection. The new album holds onto everything that the band does right, while ridding it of all the unnecessary frills. But even with the less grime, the same aesthetic that has defined the Lips in the past remains. Arabia Mountain is a wonderful record, and even though it feels like they could of done without a few of the songs towards the end, each track punches through with hook after hook of infectious Black Lips rock, whatever that may entail.