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Uneasy Riders 

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club dishes disappointments

Wednesday, May 2 2007
"I took out a loan on my empty heart, babe. I took out a loan for my patient soul." Not the most celebratory opening lines from a fairly successful band. But that's the set-up guiding you into the intro "Took Out a Loan" from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's latest opaque opus, Baby 81. In between the band's well-worn, deceitful gal pal ruminations are a splattering of inverted business phraseologies ("Lien on Your Dreams") and battle plans ("Weapon of Choice"). The lyrics speak of continual letdowns: "Can't change all the things I've done, I know." By the end of Baby, you get the sense that this trio is still frustrated with being misunderstood as a bunch of also-rans.

Guitarist Peter Hayes, groggy on the horn from a British press jaunt, hesitates to identify the seed of the lolling lyrical spite. "I'm not sure where [the lyrics] come from," he says. "It's more about looking for who's listening, and who cares to express it in some way." If anything, BRMC is just genetically encoded with those vague "Fuck the Man" sentiments that have sifted through West Coast bands for decades.

Black-clad cads with doomy sounds and rumors of biz connections are still easy targets, though. BRMC has taken its blows in the past, especially in the early days. You remember 2001-2, that post-Strokes/Hives signing frenzy where anything remotely greased of the garage was lumped together, BRMC included? Only BRMC, formed in 1999, sprung from a Cali psych-pop scene. The band was actually ahead of the curve of Jesus and Mary Chain-inspired shoegazer bands blasting away today (Black Angels, Darker My Love, Black Mountain). The group finally gave some naysayers a rustic shove with the rootsy Howl in 2005. That album gained them a bit of crit cred, but the hipsters seemed to have moved on, and sales lagged.

Despite Baby's occasionally bitter-bitten lyrics, however, the music is the most stimulating BRMC has served so far. The upped amps and rowdier rhythms may at first feel like return to the band's earlier squall of sound, but Hayes laughs and says, "That's a catchphrase that's come up — "a return.' But this album was drawing from Howl a lot, actually. It's just plugging the guitar back in. But instead of attacking you the whole time, we're trying to find some more to it." The "more" comes in as the Nirvana-nudged "Cold Wind" and the Lennon-esque la-las of "Windows" and "Not What You Wanted." Overall, though, the album retains Howl's stripped-down production — louder guitars, yes, but not with the layered distortion waves of the first two records.

So here BRMC stands as stout as ever — or as stout as droopy garage goths can get. Unfettered from the redundant Stooges and Jesus and Mary Chain references, the group offers hip-swaying rock 'n' roll fun alongside more sullen sounds. There's a mood of rattled but enduring confidence on Baby 81. The band even digs from its archives a tender, acoustic teen-era tune, "Am I Only." "That's one I wrote when I was 17," says Hayes. "I always shied away from it because I didn't like how it rhymed. But it's a good song, y'know, and I guess I shouldn't worry about that too much. There's nothing wrong with being 17 and writing a song like that. [This album] is like a definite closure in that we're about done introducing ourselves to people."

About The Author

Eric Davidson


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