Black Lips, ‘Arabia Mountain’ – First Listen

Sometimes, there’s a very good reason for fixing something that ain’t broke: you can make it a lot better. Some fans of Black Lips’ unreconstructed weirdo-garage racket might have been understandably freaked to learn they were working with Warhol-haired pop mixologist Mark Ronson. The band had never even worked with any producer before; surely to pair them up with one such a master of unit-shifting sheen and impeccable perky bounce would fuck with the magic?

Here though, we were more hopeful. Ronson’s own ‘Record Collection’ proved him a man of greater depths than many had previously thought, a good match for the smarter-than-they-let-on Lips, and his work on Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’ (the record that led the band to him) was the perfect intersection of style and insouciance, personality and polish. His ear-pleasing commercial appeal, their raw rudeness… it could be a rare gift we thought. Like a dick in a Paperchase box…

Black Lips

Family Tree
It’s immediately obvious how sweet a sector of the Venn diagram between Ronson’s walnut-grain faux-retro warmth sheen and the Lips’ skuzzy, shambolic charms we’ve landed in. 13th Floor Elevators stopping at ‘St Elsewhere’’s Horny Penthouse overlooking Surfari beach.

Modern Art
In the great tradition of songs about misbehaving in art galleries (see also the Manics’ ‘New Art Riot’ and Art Brut’s own ‘Modern Art’) this dark groove celebrates the joint of intoxicating power of pictures and chemicals, starting with a raw yell of “K-Hole at the Dali” and a dislocated chorus complete with a theremin (“Let’s go out and find the ocean cos I think we need a swim”).

Spidey’s Curse
A romantic paean to boyhood and the tragic modern American myth of Peter Parker, the boy who was bitten by a spider and took on superhuman burdens. “It’s no one’s body but yours anyway” yowls Cole Alexander, sounding tired and world-weary over richly melancholic twang of guitar

Mad Dog
Begins with a sample of a phone conversation discussing, er, demon invocation in popular song: “basically they’re taking demons out of that book and working it into a song that basically conjures up that demon… DUDE, TRIP OUT ON THIS!” What follows is suitably malevolent and tiki-Crampsy.

Mr Driver
Opening with cooed “oohs” that sound like someone imitating sonar pings, and an almost grungey low guitar that sounds microtones away from falling out of tune, this is quite a gruelling tune, grinding depravedly with an inching sexy bassline towards the final release of the title words in the chorus. I swear one of the lines is “my pecker’s long/Got me feeling strong/When I sing this song and I smoke this bong.” I really hope I’m right.

Bicentennial Man
Wonderfully exuberant surfy guitar and a really attitude-laden vocal. Has me doing the twist in my seat. Just as well it’s a swivel-chair or there might be a risk of lumbar injury here.

Go Out And Get It
Ice-cream at the corner store/You get two for just a dollar more”. Did someone say ‘great summer album’? Yes, we will have four flakes in that. Completely bullshit free, bullish, full of energy and good-natured as a puppy. A drug-dustbin, groupie-chasing, piss-drinking puppy.

Raw Meat
This even has that Eddie Cochran-style low basso profondo rumble of “oh baby” and a jaunty whistling chorus. Seems to have some sort of brown-acid-sauced food theme going on: “horseradish with horsemeat”, “fresh maggots on my teeth”. NOM NOM NOM.

Bone Marrow
Has a later girl-group, soul sort of vibe, like The Velvelettes or Shirley Ellis’ ‘The Clapping Song ‘ (“three, six, nine, the goose drank wine”). Again with that Beach Boys-ish theremin.

The Lie
Fraught and tense with quick-needling guitar swallow-tattooing your heart. Betrayal’s in the air: “that’s what you told me/now I know it’s all about you”. It ends in a most satisfying strop of guitar wig-out.

Pure good-times Seeds-style garage meets ‘Exile On Main Street’. If that doesn’t sound like a good thing to you, I can’t help you.

Dumpster Dive
Keeping up the Stonesy vibe, this has some nice honky-tonking piano and Glimmer Twins-style harmonised howling.

New Direction
One of the most notable things about this album is how solid, sturdy and well-structured it is; it’s full of melodies and Eddie Cochran-style choruses you can and will be singing along to during household chores, showers, jaunty walks down the street, this one especially.

…was the name of the Native American mascot of the Atlanta Braves baseball team up until 1982. He lived in an actual teepee built into the stands, amazingly. The name is a play on the words “knock a homer”, which is, coincidentally, precisely what the band have done here on this darkier, freakier garage cut with a great layered howler of a chorus.

Don’t Mess Up My Baby
Again has a slightly girl-groupy, playground-chant vibe with a great rockabilly rhythm, it’s reminiscent of Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders ‘Game Of Love’, but is a typically twisted sort of romance: “now settle down and have some children ’cos your brain is fried…

You Keep On Running
How very Black Lips; to lull us into a sense of sunny security and then leave us with a dark, unsettling closer. It’s a sick, swampy reverb gloop with skittering drums and witchy, shrieking vocals (recorded through a mic jammed into a real human skull, the sacriliegous and creepy bastards). It’s like the rot in the undergrowth beneath the summer flowers.

As you may have guessed, I rather like this.