Baby 81 is the fourth (already! It seemed as if they only came onto the scene a few months ago!) record from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BRMC). The band have been boosted by the return of Nick Jago on drums and have in many respects returned to the heavier sound as witnessed on their first two albums. However, elements of their acoustic based third album, Howl have been adapted to their traditional Jesus & Mary Chain template making for a richer, more rewarding experience.
The album’s name comes from a baby who was without known parents after the Asian tsunami and who was claimed by a number of potential parents. An interesting title, although I’m struggling to find any relevance in the lyrics, songs or indeed reference to the band themselves. Which in itself is fine – as a reviewer it might be easier to have some sort of hook however. So I’ll just have to make do with reviewing the music itself. This is no bad thing – as always, BRMC have delivered a collection of tunes which instantaneously make you want to chain smoke, shoe-gaze and mosh out (at certain points only).
Opener, ‘Took Out a Loan’ starts with a driving electric guitar riff which can’t help but be seen as a statement of intent – this is no Howl. The slow rocker is a grower of a track. ‘Berlin’ has a faster, more upbeat tempo to it. It feels as if it will become a live favourite. The lyrics are catchy with a chorus which cannot be faulted in terms of sticking in your brain. For whatever reason the track has become one of those ones that I hum to myself in the shower, yet it still retains a dark, disconcerting edge.
Single, ‘Weapon of Choice’ uses acoustic guitar and is perhaps one of the songs which retains some of Howl’s spirit. Here BRMC seems to be rallying against patriotism and the all-pervasive nature of American nationalism. One can’t help but feel that this song was written to the angst teenage American (albeit one from New York or LA, perhaps not from Hicksville, Texas). Indeed the repeated lines of, “I don’t wanna waste my love on a nation” become an almost cathartic experience, if one sings along. ‘Windows’ has an almost brit-pop vibe to it with it’s driving piano reminiscent of Oasis or the Beatles. It could be a Coldplay song, if Chris Martin had a mental breakdown and suddenly started having evil-LSD flashbacks.
‘666 Conducter’ also returns to Howl, and feels as if it is the kind of song Johnny Cash may have written had he been introduced to the electric guitar and had some serious misgivings about society. At over nine minutes long, ‘American X’ seems to be written for their live shows. As with some of the songs on BRMC’s self-titled debut, it drives and builds and will no doubt work best in the live context where it will gain a life and momentum of it’s own, building to become a joyous release of tension and emotion, linked with driving guitar clashes. However, on record it does become a little tedious. Perhaps this is best enjoyed in a darkened room by yourself with only a Jack and coke for company.
The album finished (unless your bought it in the UK where you’ll get a bonus track) with ‘Am I Only’ a wonderful, beautiful song. The song starts with acoustic guitar before double bass and various other acoustic instruments complement the wonderful lyrics full of self-questioning which will appeal to anyone who has been through tough emotional times. The songs builds with electric guitars and pounding drums taking the song to the next level. Becoming a quasi-anthem it will no doubt be a sure-fire bet for any potential BRMC best-of in the future.
Overall, BRMC have delivered another strong album. If you’re a fan of the band, then have no fears, this album has all the trademark sounds and strong song craftsmanhip that we’ve come to expect from these boys. Whether the album will appeal to a new fan base is harder to predict however. One gets the feeling that ultimately this band doesn’t care, and this is what makes them so appealing to so many. They sing songs of real emotion, in their own style with their own influences and don’t give a toss for the critical or commercial consequences. A great album, and possibly the first, and perhaps most unexpected, standout album of 2007.