Release Date: Jun 7, 2011
Record label: Vice Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Here’s a band that’s gone through three lineup changes (and one founding band member’s death) since their debut in 2000, have played loosely with the borders of the expansive garage punk genre, and still managed to get often rave reviews from listeners and critics. Part of their success might be their legendarily GG Allinesque live performances, which reflect back on and mediate the listener’s recorded experience. More likely it is that they record albums that are nearly as entertaining as their live performances.
On their sixth studio album, Black Lips have distilled the very essence of what they do best and topped it off with an enhanced production value—mostly courtesy Mark Ronson—that thankfully avoids robbing the music of its electric, raw quality. Awash in trippy reverb and surf-rock riffs, Arabia Mountain is further proof that the Lips have matured. The songs are no less fun than the slapdash punk gems they cranked out early in their career, but the lyrics find themselves digging a bit deeper into the nature of the human condition, while the instrumentation becomes more complex and varied.
Drinking champagne out of Mark Ronson’s Grammy Award may be the best move that the Black Lips have ever made. In addition to continuing their badass reputation, it sparked a collaboration between the Atlanta punk rockers and the retro-minded producer on their latest album Arabia Mountain. While the pairing may seem odd, it’s a good kind of odd. For the first time in the band’s history, the Black Lips’ music truly outshines their antics.
After a decade of playing wildly sloppy, thrillingly messed up garage noise that always seemed on the brink of collapse, Black Lips must have felt like changing things up. So, for their 2011 album, Arabia Mountain, they hit the studio with big shot producer Mark Ronson to tightened up and streamlined their sound. The usual murky haze their albums seemed trapped under is gone and the drums now have a healthy kick, the guitars ring out clearly, and the vocals are out front and proud.
When news broke that Mark Ronson would be overseeing the Black Lips’ Arabia Mountain, the Atlanta, Georgia-based outfit’s follow-up to 2008’s 200 Million Thousand, some fans expressed concern that the U.K. super-producer might sanitize the group’s oddball personality or sand down their endearingly rough edges in an ill-conceived bid for crossover appeal. Thankfully, Ronson stays out the band’s way, providing them with the room and resources needed to run gleefully amuck with their weird ambitions—a decision which reportedly almost killed him.
It sounds like an ’80s buddy cop movie. Him, the handsome superproducer for whom the word ‘dapper’ was invented. Them, the drug-addled, stale-semen-smelling garage rock-tards from Georgia. “You’re putting us on assignment together?” barks [a]Mark Ronson[/a] at his commanding officer ….
There comes a time in every rock'n'roll band's career when they have to decide whether to get out of the garage or stay mired in the grease. Black Lips seem to want it both ways. With the release of their fourth studio album, 2007's Good Bad Not Evil, the Atlanta rockers saw their audience expand well beyond the garage-punk underground, thanks to a new alliance with Vice that yielded fawning New York Times profiles, Conan O'Brien appearances, and Virgin Mobile ad placements.
The Black Lips always seem to start off albums well, and then succumb to slower songs that don’t well represent them or deep track experimentation that, while admirable, often bores the listener. Their better albums avoid this and stick to the goofy, fun garage rock they’ve mastered. 2009’s 200 Million Thousand had a few great songs early in the album, but faded so much in the stretch that I don’t think I made it through more than a few full listens.
When a happily sloppy lo-fi band like Atlanta flower-punks Black Lips hook up with a big-name producer like Mark Ronson, it usually goes one of two ways. Either cleaning up the sound reveals even better songwriting than we hoped they had in them, or the studio gloss waters down all the raw, fiery energy that made them great. In the case of Arabia Mountain, the results lie somewhere between those two extremes.
There's a good reason garage rock thrives in compilation form: it all sounds more or less the same, so placing different voices and tones alongside each other is an easy way to introduce the variety single bands usually lack. Black Lips, from Atlanta, have an advantage in that all four members sing, and they've mastered more than one song template of the early 60s: they alternate between jangling folk rock (Spidey's Curse), frat rock with honking sax (Mad Dog), and frantic pop oddly reminiscent in its unstoppable buoyancy of the early Beatles (Family Tree). The production, by Mark Ronson, perfectly captures the tinny lo-fidelity of their source material.
Over the past decade, Black Lips has gleefully scrawled squalor across the walls of garage punk, shooting fast and loose in the face of expectations. The Atlanta quartet's teaming with überproducer Mark Ronson for its sixth studio outing thus works its own twisted logic. Ronson reins in the raucousness without curbing the catharsis – on 16 tracks that blast newly crisp but equally irreverent.
Atlanta garage-punks refuse to grow up, roping Mark Ronson along for album six. Alex Deller 2011 It’s a question for any band that cuts their teeth and first few records with guileless, busted-up charm and lower-than-lo-fi production values: what happens when you grow up, move on and don’t have to record things down in the basement in one take while your parents are out? On the face of it, grubby-cuffed garage scufflers Black Lips have gone about finding out with hell-for-leather gusto on this sixth full-length. They’ve plonked celeb pop producer Mark Ronson (he of Lily Allen, Robbie Williams and Kaiser Chiefs fame/horror) at the helm for what could easily have been a gutlessly over-preened debacle.