"I've been looking in a new direction," Black Lips bassist Jared Swilley sings on one of the many highlights of his band's sixth studio album, Arabia Mountain. It shows. Black Lips might be best known for the lip-locking, fluid-spraying onstage antics that perfectly accompany — but also tend to outshine — their catchy, rough-and-tumble Nuggets-inspired garage sound. But coupled with the act's coming of age, Arabia — a collaboration with producer Mark Ronson, who's lent his glossy pomp to artists like Amy Winehouse, Duran Duran and Nas — might just be the record that allows this excellent rock 'n' roll band's music to take center stage where it belongs.
Fourteen of Arabia's 16 tracks were produced by Ronson (Deerhunter's Lockett Pundt handled the other two), and while none of them would sound out of place on either of the band's previous two outings, certain songs — the take-the-world-by-the-balls motivational anthem "Go Out and Get It," or druggy museum adventure "Modern Art," for instance — are especially cleaned-up. Moreover, it's hard not to wonder if the horns that pop up on fist-pumping opener "Family Tree" and the blood-and-demons-themed "Mad Dog" arrived at the behest of the Grammy-winning, hit-record-making Ronson.
By and large, the results here are excellent, so perhaps the question of whether they originated in the heads of the young Atlanta mischief makers playing them or the well-connected British producer manning the knobs behind them is a moot one. Perhaps, even, this is just what the Black Lips needed following the disappointingly uneven 200 Million Thousand: a little guidance, a little reining in. From the sound of Arabia Mountain, they're moving in a fine new direction, indeed.