One of the leading lights in this century/millennium’s garage-rock revival has been Atlanta’s Black Lips, thanks to their wild live shows, which are somewhere between party, punk rock, and DIY. The simplicity (and low price) of the garage sound has begat a million-and-one similar artists (a lot of them in Brooklyn…), some worth the effort, some not so much. This has all diluted the garage-pool that the Black Lips draw from, requiring them to up their game on record if they want to be more than performance artists. On their latest, Arabia Mountain, they do not rise to the challenge, but rather deliver sixteen tracks that you could, would, and probably already have heard many other places.
The garage-rock sound is an enjoyable one, so even the familiar isn’t out-and-out bad. But there’s nothing on Arabia that couldn’t be found on any run-of-the-mill garage-rock band’s album in the past sixty years. Garage-sway? “Spidey’s Curse” and “Mad Dog”. Garage-cheer? “Go Out and Get It”. Garage-twang? “Bicentennial Man” and “Dumpster Dive”. Modern day sock-hop? Arabia opener “Family Tree” or “Noc-a-Homa”. “Don’t Mess Up My Baby” is so familiar it literally seems like a song that a band in movie set in the fifties would play in the background – cookie cutter garage.
Not that we weren’t warned: prior release 200 Million Thousand (QRO review) was likewise unoriginal, but at least single “Short Fuse” had a Yardbirds-style underbelly of depth. Arabia lacks any such standout. Also like 200 Million, the Black Lips’ garage sound is enjoyable – it’s not a record anyone is going to cringe when it’s put on the stereo. It’s just that there’s no reason to do so. The proliferation of garage-rock may have raised Black Lips’ live reputation, but their recorded output only further shrinks in the light.