Drinking champagne out of Mark Ronson’s Grammy Award may be the best move that the Black Lips have ever made. In addition to continuing their badass reputation, it sparked a collaboration between the Atlanta punk rockers and the retro-minded producer on their latest album Arabia Mountain. While the pairing may seem odd, it’s a good kind of odd. For the first time in the band’s history, the Black Lips’ music truly outshines their antics.
In the past, the Atlanta punk outfit’s frenetic energy came coupled with an oft-scattered musical rambunctious that turned their efforts into hit-or-miss affairs. While their catalog possesses some moments of the best garage rock in the past decade, all too often, their borderline-insane behavior led to musical inconsistencies. But if the direction taken on Arabia Mountain indicates anything, it’s that the quartet of Cole Alexander, Joe Bradley, Ian St. Pé and Jared Swilley is ready to let the music speak for itself—with or without the associated circus.
In particular, Ronson helped the Black Lips shape this record into a focused, tight-knit garage rock collection, retaining everything the band does right while doing away with the unnecessary frills. Despite being 16 songs long, the record punches through with hook after hook of infectious punk rock. “Modern Art” makes tripping your way through your next museum visit feel like an experience more than worthwhile (Sean Lennon’s guest appearance on theremin certainly helps the cause), while “Go Out and Get It” may be the catchiest track the band has ever penned. “Raw Meat” dissects uncooked food in the rawest of rockers, while “Mad Dog” busts out the saxophone with an eerie coolness. With Arabia Mountain, the Black Lips have opted not to be weird simply for weirdness’ sake, but instead have crafted a fantastic rock record that naturally works without many of the overtly oddball moves of the past.
While there’s little less grit and a bit more polish over the course of Arabia Mountain, the aesthetic that has defined the Black Lips throughout their career remains the same. For a band that has always done things its own way for better or worse (and, prior to working with Ronson, had never worked with a producer), the group has left behind its flowery punk persona in favor of retro-rock revivalism. “Dumpster Dive” resonates like an Exile-era Rolling Stones session, while “New Direction” cuts like a late ‘70s pure power-pop gem. It’s Ronson’s dash of throwback style topped with the band’s signature wild-child tendencies that make for an impeccable partnership and Lips’ finest album to date.