Remember that kid in high school everyone thought was a badass? Black leather jacket, big boots and disheveled hair notwithstanding, he was actually just another fragile outcast who smoked to look macho, listened to too much Jesus and Mary Chain (or the Music Machine or the Damned or Tool, depending on the era) and bought his clothes at the mall. Meet Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
The trio of guitarist Peter Hayes, bassist Robert Turner and drummer Nick Jago (the lone Brit) formed in San Francisco as the Elements in ’98, but decamped to LA with a more menacing moniker snatched from Marlon Brando’s biker gang in The Wild One. On the strength of a 13-track demo — and accolades from the likes of Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr — the band signed with Virgin to release the self-produced B.R.M.C. (with help from Michael Been, Turner’s father and onetime leader of the Call) just in time to have it unduly lumped with the neo-garage movement. Yes, the album does betray some Stooges influence in “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll (punk song),” and both “Red Eyes and Tears” and “Spread Your Love” are glowing examples of Nuggets gone goth, but there’s something about a band continually emulating Love and Rockets (especially Hayes’ and Turner’s vocals) that contradicts the whole Let’s-Rock-It-Like-the-Fleshtones revival. When it pays off — which is more often than not — BRMC’s fuzzed- out angry shoegazer stance reaches levels of sonic brilliance unmatched by any of their peers, especially “Love Burns,” a hornets’ nest of busy guitar pop, and “Awake,” a sly masterpiece that both chimes and roars. Sadly, they’re unable to sustain energy throughout, leaving vaguely psychedelic snoozes like “Rifles” and “Too Real” to screw the whole thing up.
Aside from the drone of “Suddenly,” all signs of lameness are eradicated on the powerful Take Them on, on Your Own. The boys are more pissed off than jaded this time out, openly loosing their cool in Stones-y stompers like “We’re All in Love” and “Generation” (“I think I’ve had enough of this generation”), and the proto-metal of “U.S. Government” and “Rise or Fall.” The slower numbers (“Ha Ha High Babe,” “Shade of Blue”) rely less on showy atmosphere and more on loose guitar accents, which makes the whole affair earthier, rawer, more real. As expected, the J&M Chain get emulated (only trippier), as do Stone Roses and Oasis (only darker), but half the fun is finding the original idea behind the borrowed buzz saw and melodic vocals. BRMC still represents that pale teenage loner who seemed dangerous until he showed you his Lord of the Rings figurines, but they do it so very well.
BRMC have already issued an entire album’s worth of tunes not on their first two full-length US releases. The UK version of the second album contains “Going Under,” while the Japanese editions of the albums feature three extra songs each. Other unique selections can be found on the band’s various 7-inches.
Unplugged and purposefully dusty, Howl takes a stab at bucolic authenticity. The preponderance of boot-stomp blues beats, acoustic strumming and lines like “racing with the rising tide to my father’s door” might conjure not-so-complimentary cries of O Brother, but the threesome actually manages to kick out some respectful retro rehashes without entirely losing sight of its original agenda. Despite thin, sometimes whiny vocals from Hayes and Turner (now calling himself Robert Levon Been), drum-less pickers like “Devil’s Waiting” and “Fault Line” are surprisingly soulful. The piano balladry of “Promise” — part Queenly grandeur, part ’70s AM schlock — works despite its resemblance to Gilbert O’Sullivan. The only true duds here are those selections that sound most like the BRMC of yore, namely “Howl” and the hapless “Weight of the World.” The further they veer from the course (like the misshapen slide guitar and honking harmonica in the stupendous single “Ain’t No Easy Way”), the more memorable the sound. Of course, the nagging sensation that they’re just striking another superficial pose still looms large.