"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
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self-conscious rock shapes being superseded by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.