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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Red Ink/RCA

"Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs!" — Allen Ginsberg, "Howl," 1956

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's third album comes after an unsettled period which saw the band getting dropped from Virgin, then splitting from, and reuniting with, its drummer. And somewhere along the way they've re-imagined themselves.

Where once they were a rather self-conscious sounding late addition to the familiar Anglo-American ping-pong of rock ideology — absorbing, then regurgitating the Jesus and Mary Chain's interpretation of Velvets/Ramones/Phil Spector sanctified trash 'n' roll — now they've plunged deep into an older American musical heritage.

From the album sleeve's series of monotone portraits to the faux-Beatisms of the sleevenotes, displayed on an artfully yellowing background, it seems that BRMC's aim here is a realignment of ideals, replacing the full-throttle roar of underground rock with a more contemplative, soulful canon of songs. And even if what is ultimately revealed is one set of self-conscious rock shapes being superseded by another, it still sounds pretty good.

With the handclaps and multi-tracked voices leading into "Shuffle Your Feet," the transformation is immediate and vivid. The band's sound has a completely different texture, and the songs are convincing attempts at channeling folk, blues and gospel elements through original compositions. And the music sounds sincere, even when a bit of awkwardness creeps in — you really feel the band has settled into something that suits it far more than its previous scuzzy, narco-rock stance.

If the previous evocations of Jesus and salvation seemed like post-Mary Chain/Spiritualized window-dressing, here they fit right into the context of the fatalism on display in the songs' lyrics. And there's now a wider pool of influences to draw from: the white-boy delta-blues stomp of "Ain't No Easy Way"; the fervent Dylanisms of "Complicated Situation"; the intimate acoustic confessionals of "Restless Sinner" and "Fault Line."

There are faint traces remaining of the old BRMC in the taut melancholy of "Weight Of The World" and the psych-folk dirge of "The Line," but for all intents and purposes it might as well be a different band. Quite what they do next is open to question, but here they've broken their own mold and achieved something unexpectedly fine and durable.

by Tom Ridge

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