Album Review: Black Lips – ‘Arabia Mountain’

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Mark Ronson’s parps can’t spoil the riotous dumb fun

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. “OK with me, boss,” says [a]Black Lip[/a]s’ singer Jared Swilley. That’s not quite how the strangest musical hook-up of 2011 happened, we expect, but you get the point.

It’s a matter of no little wonderment how this pants-forsaken four-piece bring such joy and freshness to their fuzz-toned debauches. Worryingly, their last record – [b]‘200 Million Thousand’[/b] – seemed to be running low on that devil-may-care spirit. Though by no means a disaster, they needed to hit back, and [b]‘Arabia Mountain’[/b] doesn’t disappoint.

[b]‘Family Tree’[/b] is a rollicking, leaky banger of an opening track, hair combed with engine grease and zany sax parping away in the background – chalk that one up to Ronson, then. Speaking of whom, the arch swinger’s touch on the record is apparent but surprisingly discreet, his trademark brass applied only sparingly and a hint of Theremin bringing surfy, [b]‘Good Vibrations’[/b] overtones to [b]‘Modern Art’[/b] and [b]‘Bone Marrow’[/b].

The former’s wreckheads-in-an-art-gallery theme perfectly sums up the band’s class-clown appeal (“[i]K-hole at the Dali/Seeing the unknown[/i]”), and is one of their best flat-out tunes since [b]‘O Katrina’[/b]. [b]‘Spidey’s Curse’[/b] talks about Spider-Man getting touched up as a kid and sounds like [a]The Beach Boys[/a] – not the sacrosanct, tortured-genius version beloved of [a]Animal Collective[/a], but the feckless thrill-seekers behind ‘Surfin’ USA’.

[b]‘Go Out And Get It’[/b]’s lyrics advocate a common-sense approach to fun (“[i]Ice cream at the corner store, you get two for just a dollar more[/i]”) and the wicked [b]‘Dumpster Dive’[/b] takes the band’s trashy aesthetic to literal new lows with a charming tale of rooting in bins. The chorus is pure [b]‘Beggars Banquet’[/b]-era Stones; a peach.

Even the bad-vibes tracks are more fun this time around –[b]‘Mr Driver’[/b] comes on like a creeping dose of the fear and [b]‘You Keep On Running’[/b] sounds like Jeffrey Lebowski’s worst acid flashbacks. But even more miraculous is how the band’s idiot-savant shtick hasn’t worn thin over time, possibly because it isn’t a shtick at all. Truly, these guys are God’s own creatures.

Alex Denney

Order a copy of Black Lips’ ‘Arabia Mountain’ from Amazon