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.
Arabia Mountain finds the Black Lips expanding their musical palette to indulge in a wide array of new textures and instruments, including bluesy saxophone, trembling saw, and even a spacey theremin courtesy of Sean Lennon. The result is a high-energy stroll through the annals of garage music that never sounds as deliberate as that description might imply. Put simply, over 16 scuzzy tracks, the Black Lips casually embrace just about every conceivable mode and era of the genre: The band adopts a glam-y strut on “Bicentennial Man,” a psychedelic jangle on “Time,” and a proto-punk sneer on opener “Family Tree.” The songs zip by, rarely lingering beyond the two-and-a-half-minute mark, and the Black Lips’ trademark demented sense of humor runs rampant throughout these addictive bursts of garage-punk bliss.
However, it’s worth noting that amid all the tongue-in-cheek odes to satanic panic, deteriorating meat, the fine art of dumpster diving, and Peter Parker’s repressed memories of sexual abuse (?!), lies Arabia Mountain‘s biggest curveball, “Time.” The track, which is guitarist Ian St. Pé‘s lone songwriting contribution to the album, is a disarmingly sweet ballad about friends getting wasted and goofing off. It’s easy to imagine that this is the exact manner in which the group approached Arabia Mountain, and that approach goes a long way toward explaining what makes the album so refreshing. While like-minded bands fumble around with weighty concepts and overlong arrangements, the Black Lips remain purveyors of instant, unpretentious gratification.