Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Take Them On, On Your Own was painful anomie, a faltering that wasn’t so much tragic on artistic merit as it was a sad affirmation of critics’ resounding indictment of BRMC being JAMC 1.5. The album was competent and certainly peaked at certain points, but saddled with expectation it never reach the fuzzed skylines of their debut. The thing is, BRMC are doomed to that lazy comparison and it will always be incumbent upon the members to articulate a sound that transcends incidental and insubstantial similarities, to say that genetic similarity doesn’t determine the clothes you wear.
The first thing you’re going to hear about Howl is how it’s another Darklands, merely a stripped, distortion-free endeavor masking as a departure from the typical. And while it’d be nice to agree with that persuasion, its main problem, to paraphrase philosopher Saul Kripke’s already curt rebuke, is that it’s wrong. Nothing in music is exempt from a derivative tag and, indeed, derivation is what adds substance and a sense of history to any piece of art. You shouldn’t ask why they sound like Ian Curtis, William and Jim Reid, or David Byrne but rather how they transform those reference points.
And the thing is, BRMC’s music has always been saturated with a very particular pathos, one that played against the druggy guitars and slovenly drumming. It wasn’t religious rectitude per se, but The Jesus and religion was certainly a parenthetical aspect of their work. If not heard through specific iterations (“Salvation” from their debut), a soul could be divined from the general. Really, I’ve been waiting for the group to finally flush out their spiritual themes using the music itself and on Howl the trio has furnished an album that not only resuscitates their somewhat palsied career, but marks an unambiguous independence from the usual comparisons.
I’m not saying Howl is Jesus Rock, rather that their move towards country and gospel makes their spiritual evocation far more immediate. The energy heard is different and far more human than before, unfettered from the dank electricity permeating their other works. The foot stomp and handclap driven opener “Shuffle Your Feet” doesn’t come off as being queer or aberrant and neither does the Blues romp of “Ain’t No Easy Way” because you always felt this is precisely what they should have sounded like. So, too, is the band able to communicate effectively the intimacy of Americana on “Restless Sinner,” Robert Turner breaking through his older and more static vocal style by riding the inherent mutability of the sub-genre. His notes bend unaffectedly and are buttressed by a decidedly simpler (but not quotidian) lyrical personality.
With T-Bone Burnett taking over production they also seem to have reverted to the self-produced motivation of their debut. That’s where they shone the brightest and with greatest meaning. And on Howl that positive light returns again to not only reanimate the stalling trio but also to prove that topical comparisons only mask a wholly original core.
Release date: August 23, 2005
Label: RCA Records
Rating: 8.8 / 10
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