Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Black Lips' Arabia Mountain reaches a new peak

Posted By on Wed, Jun 8, 2011 at 2:53 PM

black_lips_arabia_mountain.jpg
"New Direction"


"Modern Art"
The Black Lips’ sixth proper album, Arabia Mountain opens with “Family Tree,” a ramped up, straight-ahead rocker that jolts to life unexpectedly. The song opens the record with a feeling not unlike turning the channel to CNN to find a car chase already in progress, and that’s kind of the point. Knocking the ears and the brain out of alignment is a necessary primer here as the group lays the foundation for some serious change. From the beginning it’s obvious that Arabia Mountain is a clean and professionally assembled record — a tidbit of information that’s been pounded into the collective subconscious of the Western world since news spread that producer Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse) was at the helm. But upon arrival, improved production is only part of what makes Arabia Mountain such a milestone for ATL’s original garage punk innovators and survivors.

Of course Ronson deserves a lion’s share of credit for this one. But the songs themselves show the group stepping up their game, and reaching for a higher standard.

There’s an element of song craft present here that takes hold in “Modern Art,” “Mad Dog” and the Lockett Pundt-produced "Bicentennial Man" and "Go Out and Get It" that transcends the prior sense of primitivism that defined the group in the past.

Despite the gurgling saxophone in “Family Tree” and “Mad Dog,” the singing saw in “Modern Art,” the Theremin in “Bone Marrow,” and whatever that high-end whistling noise is in “Raw Meat,” there’s still a sense of rock and roll simplicity at the heart of it all. But anything that could be described as raw or jagged is now well done, or at least seasoned by Ronson to move up the ladder.

The group hasn’t forgotten the dirty rock and roll savagery that carried them this far, but they don’t attempt to repeat any of their past victories with Arabia Mountain. They build on them, and the change is literally embodied by "New Direction." The execution possesses a certain timeless charm that’s in league with the Rolling Stones post-Their Satanic Majesties Request, and that’s not much of a coincidence, considering the album’s artwork evocation of all things Kenneth Anger, whose understudy, Brian Butler, directed the video for “Modern Art.”

In the grand scheme of things, purist fans and Internet trolls alike may well claim 2005’s Let It Bloom as the peak of Black Lips’ career; and they’ve got a point. But it’s impossible to deny that Arabia Mountain reaches an entirely new peak in the group's catalogue.

The garage Nazi contingency — the anonymous masses that raised a ruckus when a band like the Gories, for example, metamorphosed into the more pop-oriented Dirtbombs — probably won’t have much use for Arabia Mountain as the album does run the risk of alienating those listeners who are dedicated to the fuzz and grit from which Black Lips came.

Meanwhile, in the real world, “Mad Dog,” “Raw Meat” and “Noc-A-Homa Cried” are among Black Lips’ greatest hits so far, and in order to survive as an artistically viable outfit, such a step up was necessary, especially following the cold reception of the group's last album, 100 Million Thousand.

But with direct, clutter-free songwriting, highlighted by Ronson’s stylishly, but not obscenely polished production, Arabia Mountain is a strong album through and through, and it’s a blast.

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