Monday, April 15, 2013 review

Posted on April 14th, 2013 by Danny De Maio  music  BRMC Prove Theyve Still Got Gas In The Tank

There was a stretch of time that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club had my full attention, all the way down to my fashion sense. Black leather jackets, moppy hair covering my eyes, ripped jeans, and black Aviators. When you’re in your late teens, I suppose you think you’re invincible and that dangerous is always considered sexy and “in”. If anyone learned a lesson that this thinking isn’t sound, it is BRMC. To be honest, the band hasn’t aged well as of late. Their first two albums are two of my favorite cool, noisy rock’n’roll albums of my youth, while their third, blues album Howl is one of those overlooked albums that will someday get its rightful due. However, the two following albums (Baby 81 and Beat the Devil’s Tattoo) heard the band in a rut. While there were certainly a few great songs on both albums, the “cool” was wearing off. After the death of Michael Been, who acted as sound tech, longtime producer, and father to vocalist/bassist Robert Levon Been the band may have realized that their slower numbers have become their strong suit.

Specter At The Feast is a tribute album to Michael Been and it’s immediately apparent that the band is mourning the loss of him. For the sake of getting to the meat of the album, I want to dismiss most of the more furious numbers here. The band was wise not to put any out-of-nowhere rockers on Howl and they should have followed that album in that sense. Instead, BRMC has inserted a handful of loud rockers that completely break up the mood built (quite nicely I might add) by the more somber ballads here. “Rival” and “Teenage Disease” are screaming to be left off the album, but only “Hate the Taste” borders on mid-tempo stomper and all-out rocker, so I’ll cut it some slack.  music  BRMC Prove Theyve Still Got Gas In The Tank

Had those two generic rock tracks been left off, Feast could be considered the band’s turning point in their career. However, it’s glaringly obvious that BRMC are still infatuated with the long ago exhausted sound of the Jesus and Mary Chain and a million other blues rock bands.

I know I’ve ripped the band to this point, but now I’m going to tell you that the majority of the new album is damn good. Nearly great on some songs. Opener “Fire Walker” sets the tone unlike any BRMC album to this point. It’s eerie, somber, and beautiful, all adjectives not normally associated with this band’s sound. There’s a thoughtfulness in an album that generally prefers to burn slow rather than blow up on every track. Been’s bass is still a focal point in the songwriting, slithering its way through the six-minute “Fire Walker”. “Returning” about as close to a radio-ready ballad as the band has ever got, while “Some Kind of Ghost” is as minimalist and creepy as I’ve ever heard the band. When they take risks they’re handsomely rewarded and I hope the band realizes that. I’d love to hear an album free of pomp and overly distorted guitars from this band because they play the haunted bluesmen so well.

Since as long as I’ve been a fan, (I can’t believe it’s been 12 years) I can always count on BRMC to have an abnormally good album-ender and Feast is no exception. “Lose Yourself” is a mournful ballad that has just the right amount of rhythm section heft to build a head-nodding groove. Historically in rock’n’roll, ballads have been seen as “lame”, but when they’re done right a ballad is one of the secret weapons a band can whip out. It just so happens that BRMC write better ballads these days than they do rockers, and the moment that they accept this the better for them and us.