Review Summary: Black Lips remain true to their sound with an album full of raucous 60’s garage punk. But the question remains, “will they ever take a risk?”
Ever since Good Bad Not Evil
put Black Lips on the fringe of mainstream success, they have been at odds with themselves over which course to embark upon: the admirable but lonely path of mucking around in the dark, musty corners of the garage, or the less commendable one of grabbing an A-list producer and altering that fun retro sound they have grown quite fond of. Both decisions have considerable drawbacks, and if we know anything about Black Lips, it is that they will always remain loyal to themselves before caving to outside expectations. Thus, it may not come as much of a surprise that with their latest effort, Arabia Mountain
, they try to have their cake and eat it too.
is an album completely mired in the band’s classic sound comprised of short, punchy tunes, seemingly performed without a care in the world, along with cheerful vocals that define Black Lips’ crude and cheeky personality. Despite their stringency in maintaining the course, though, they still team up with Mark Ronson, an A-list producer
responsible for the likes of Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. It almost seems like they wanted to pit the two possibilities (underground and mainstream) against each other to see which one wins, although it ends up being much simpler than that. Basically, Arabia Mountain
is just another Black Lips album sans the defiance of adolescence, and with an added sense of overall accessibility.
So for all of their deliberation over which direction to take, Black Lips end up going right back to their bread and butter. In a way that is a sign of strength, indicating that they weren’t able to be swayed by Ronson’s presence. The sunny 1960’s style reminiscent of the Sonics is still abundant here, and the band still treats their albums like one big party. ‘Family Tree’ kicks things off in appropriate fashion, with horns, upbeat guitars, and echoing psychedelia-influenced vocals from Cole Alexander. Before you know it, that song is over and it has transitioned into ‘Modern Art’, an equally reckless flower-punk anthem. In a way, that is how Arabia Mountain
carries itself; a quick-hitting collection of sixteen enjoyable songs that come and go just like a party. The problem is Arabia Mountain
is one of those parties that you don’t remember the next day.
The vast majority of the songs on Arabia Mountain
are indistinguishable from one another, all carrying similar chord progressions, drum beats, and overall tempos. Even the standout tracks, such as ‘Go Out and Get It’, ‘Time’, and ‘New Direction’ feel interchangeable because of the lack of any real
deviation from the band’s default sound. It’s not like retro garage rock calls for boundary-pushing experimentation, but Black Lips could have benefited from a few extra ideas; because as it stands, Arabia Mountain
feels like the same two or three thoughts, just presented in an abundance of ways that, unfortunately, all sound very similar.
It might also be important to note that the album lacks a defining “hit.” Let It Bloom
had ‘Dirty Hands’, Good Bad Not Evil
had ‘Bad Kids’…but in Arabia Mountain
’s case? ‘Time’ probably comes closest to reaching that level, despite sounding like a lost b-side from The Monkees (seriously, listen to that song and tell me you don’t hear a little Micky Dolenz). The lack of a clear highlight wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the rest of the album wasn’t stuck in a neutral rehash of itself, for the most part reapplying the same formula x
, and z
ways. It’s somewhat of a shame to think about how Black Lips could have hit a home run here, had they only shaken things up a little more often and delivered a few more memorable songs. Still, even in the face of those disappointing elements, the album stands as a model for consistency. If nothing else, it proves that Black Lips will rock out their way
, and nobody will ever change that about them.
However, with stubbornness comes major drawbacks. As long as this band continues to stay put and only toy
with the idea of change, they will never ascend to their full potential. Sure, they made minor alterations with Arabia Mountain
’s production, but those modifications were counterbalanced by their refusal to branch out and, to be blunt, a lack of memorable songs. Black Lips are a clearly talented band, and they have the ability to be one of the best in their retro, flower-punk genre…but Arabia Mountain
won’t do much to hurt or help their cause. They may find it in their best interest to put all their cards on the table next time around, because after years of being “pretty good”, they owe it to themselves and fans alike to take a risk going for it all. Whether or not they spread their wings and fly or come crashing down to Earth, the pursuit of maximizing your artistic potential is something we can all respect.