The Black Lips – Arabia Mountain album review

While the late nineties were peppered with foul-mouthed shock rock and offensive yet strangely metered personalities who were easy for the media to latch onto and vilify (at least until everybody grew up to realize that Marilyn Mason was not in fact the boogie-man we’d all hoped he’d turn out to be and instead, maybe, was a really nice guy), there was not a long line of bands waiting to step into GG Allin’s urine soaked shoes.  And then, freshly expelled from their high school in the wake of the Columbine Massacre due to some vague reasoning that labeled them as a ‘subculture danger’, formed the Black Lips.  

For three albums spanning five years the band maintained a reputation that ranked them among the highest or lowest (depending on how you look at it) in the race toward repugnance not solely due to their stage performance—which included a variety of bodily fluids—but for the generally scum-driven sound they made work so well.

All of that seemed to change with the release of 2007’s Good Bad Not Evil when the band suddenly garnished some form of terrainian recognition and for the first time pulled themselves from below ground to find an audience waiting for them, an audience who they would promptly alienate with the madness noise of their next release 200 Million Thousand.  Now with Arabia  Mountain the boys seem to be making an attempt at digging themselves from the dirt once again.

It’s not that the album lacks the Lips’ characteristic griminess.  The grime is still there, but it’s a digestible grime, the sort of grime you’d let your son play with but wouldn’t quite trust to take out your daughter.  It has something to do with the fact that the album was produced by Mark Ronson who has worked with such big names as Amy Winehouse (who you should just keep away from your kids altogether).  He gives the record a kind of dirty 60’s, beach dance-vibe complete with blaring saxes and tambourines accompanied hand-claps.  The whole thing feels like a Kinks or Beach Boys album on PCP.

But if Arabia Mountain seems more mature, it is not the work of the producer alone.  The songs are characteristically playful and raunchy, but they lack some of the broad-swinging emotions prevalent throughout the band’s previous releases which alternated back and forth from extreme joy to bellicose, nihilistic posturing.  “Time is moving on,” the band tells us in the upbeat and almost hand-jiving track “Time”.  The Black Lips are feeling it, and it seems like they’re moving on with it.  But will they move toward this new acceptance or recoil from it?  One thing is sure; whatever they do it will be unpredictable and layered with distortion.

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