Thursday, March 18, 2010 BTDT review...

By Beth Keating.

I read a really shitty review of the new Black Rebel Motorcycle Club album, Beat the Devil’s Tattoo today. Actually, I read more than one shitty review, but this one absolutely took the cake. And I’m not referring to the writer’s disdainful opinion of the album – I’m talking about construction, approach and content. I’ve been listening to Beat the Devil’s Tattoo for the last few days, trying to sum up articulated opinions that extend further than “I like it. Lots.” After reading the majority of what’s on offer, in terms of criticism, I’m even more compelled to get this piece right.

So, where to begin?

How about somewhere right after four consecutive listens? That’s in one morning, to be crystal. I think in total, over the last two days I’ve listened to Beat the Devil’s Tattoo about fifteen times in full. And those articulated opinions are still not making themselves evident. From the gritty, gangrene rock assaults, to the soft and beautiful ballads, it’s hard to pick a fault with BRMC’s latest offering. Simmering throughout each track is an intense and infectious energy that becomes more addictive on each subsequent listen.

It’s not as if Beat the Devil’s Tattoo is a complete 180 in terms of style or approach. Rather, it’s almost as if the band have chosen introspect over external influence, pulling elements from their previous incarnations seen on prior releases. ‘Mama Taught Me Better’ draws on the distorted, panic-inducing bass we became familiar with through B.R.M.C and Take Them On, On Your Own. ‘Sweet Feeling’ and ‘The Toll’ sweep across you like the gentle folk-influenced balladry introduced on Howl. And, the title track invigorates with subtle instrumentation and thundering percussion, recalling the absolute highlight of 2007s Baby 81.

The album's name is in reference to a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, The Devil in the Belfry, a darkly satirical tale about a devil who comes to a town, destroying it's traditions and stagnancy, and inciting change and creativity. While the band are cautious to amplify the extent of the piece on the entire album, there's something so apt about the connection and Beat the Devil's Tattoo. BRMC have always possessed an intriguing charm, enough to carry through albums which sometimes lack a cohesive consistency. With this latest release, the band has, externally, somewhat forcefully embraced change - through the departure of long-time drummer, Nick Jago, and the introduction of Leah Shapiro.

Much like Poe's storytelling, Beat the Devil's Tattoo builds a landscape which is layered, complex and darkly beautiful. There are moments where the darkness is pertinently obvious - sure to satisfy fans lusting after the band's signature distorted psychedelia. The best bits of Peter Hayes' and Robert Levon Been's balladry are also present, and can't be overlooked. 'Sweet Feeling' is one of those haunting musical pieces, where a true sense of isolation, desperation and lust are conveyed perfectly through stark instrumentation.

The best thing about Beat the Devil's Tattoo is its accessibility. This isn't a harder-edged album, nor is it strictly a stripped back blues-based escapade. The thirteen tracks never drag, refusing to outstay their welcome. There's something wonderfully wrenching about each song - something that makes you move your feet unconsciously, or pause for a moment and just listen.

Beat the Devil's Tattoo is an impressive accomplishment, and a pleasure to play, over and over and over... and over.

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