When Black Lips frontman Cole Alexander sings “It feels so cold/Walk with me,” on “Family Tree,” the opening track of Arabia Mountain, he does it with an innocent lightness. With a horn section that lends a pop feel, Alexander leads you to believe that he really does just want to take a stroll. It’s almost a comfort when the screaming kicks in after 30 seconds of politeness, a reassurance that although Arabia Mountain is clearly influenced by producer Mark Ronson, it is inescapably a Black Lips album. This is the sixth studio album from the self-dubbed “flower-punk” band from Atlanta, and it is as close to polished as Black Lips has ever been—and probably ever wants to be. The band’s chaos and fuzzy guitar sound are still there, but they are controlled; when they’re finally unleashed, the change in presence is suddenly incredibly appreciated.
The album feels like the Ramones but sometimes inches closer to the Who’s mellower side, especially on “Bicentennial Man,” a track produced by Deerhunter guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Lockett Pundt. Mellow, however, is definitely the exception on this fast-paced album that contains only two songs that run longer than three minutes. Arabia Mountain is at its best when it rushes along and lets Alexander’s voice share the spotlight with the band’s solid rhythms, as it does on singles “Go Out And Get It” and “Modern Art,” and the fantastic “Bone Marrow.” This track stands out from the first clear beat, and it becomes more apparent with every guitar-free measure that goes by that the rhythm section is going to be in complete control here. Even when the guitar effects start to kick in, the vocals remain pure and undeniably catchy.
The band has never shied away from playing with its listeners, something that is evidenced by its legendary live shows, and that trend continues on this album. If you need proof, just try listening to Alexander sing “And I ain’t seen some good trash since I/Since I don’t know when,” on “Dumpster Dive” without superimposing the lyrics of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” onto it in your head. The best part is that you know he’s thinking it too.
As the final minutes of the album arrive with a gradual stripping away of voices and instruments on the haunting “You Keep On Running,” you can’t help but to picture it being performed against a backdrop of screaming chaos at the end of a show, the line between band and audience long since blurred as members of both get caught up in the momentum and lose all sense of decorum. Black Lips puts on a hell of a show on Arabia Mountain, and it doesn’t even need riots and stage diving to keep you interested.