When Black Rebel Motorcycle Club first started out, who’d have thought that they’d end up sounding like a gloriously heavied-up version of the Beatles at the height of their Indian-influenced period but here, on ‘Beat the Devil’s tattoo’ that’s exactly what’s happened with the title track offering up a mixture of eastern-tinged folk music and heavy slide guitar straight out of the Blue’s harshest exponents that is simultaneously gloriously retro and utterly life-affirming. It’s the blueprint from ‘Howl’s’ undisputed highlight ‘Ain’t no easy way’ writ large and spread across a whole album of psychedelic experimentation and pure rock fury.
Having opened the album in suitably mystic style, the pay-off is the Spacemen 3 rock blast of ‘Conscience killer’ which is so eerily akin to the feral blasts of ‘the perfect prescription’ album that you have to double check to make sure this isn’t the same band. ‘Bad blood’ takes a more laid-back approach that shifts gear towards the avante-indie that existed in the hinterlands of nineties music (behind the god-awful Britpop movement) with bands such as Lupine howl, Spiritualized and Jesus and Mary Chain, although BRMC undoubtedly imbue it with their own personality and one making this far more than just an anachronistic love letter to the lost bands of the British indie scene. ‘War machine’ is a good example of BRMC taking the ideas of those bands and spinning it off in their own unique direction, with Peter Hayes’ faux-northern drawl hidden behind layers of reverb and effects while the band lay down a stripped-down, yet thunderously heavy blues backing that somehow makes you feel stoned even if you’re just spending a quiet Sunday afternoon reviewing some cool new release. The track is an audacious mix of the familiar and the disparate and as such is hugely enjoyable and subtly original, referencing familiar material just enough to touch base with sanity but personable enough to be exciting as well as enticing. Having suitably pummelled the listener, it’s time for an acoustic lament which is delivered in the form of ‘sweet feeling’ a song which develops the folky sound of ‘Devil’s waitin’’ and once again allows Hayes’ road-weary voice to shine over a simple acoustic backdrop.
Heading back to rockier fare is ‘Evol’ (nothing, alas, to do with Sonic Youth) which sounds like the velvet Underground torn from their roots and dragged screaming into 2010 with its emphatic, yet laid back drum beat and piano motif overlaid with urgent guitar and effects. Better still is the atmospheric build up and sneering rock ‘n’ roll blast of ‘Mama taught me better’ which couples contemporary rock in the vein of the much underrated Cooper Temple Clause with seventies psychedelia to very good effect indeed. Also great is the heavy blues stomp of ‘River Styx’ which is rhythmic, urgent and rooted in the tradition of Led Zeppelin with a hint of Queens of the stone age chucked in for good measure. ‘The toll’ ups the folk quotient with a stunning track that is beautiful and which adds in understated and perfectly performed female vocals to create a wonderfully emotive track that forms a bridge between the band’s rockier side and their ability to craft a track that aims squarely at the heart strings without resorting to the usual tear-jerking tactics of over-blown rock ballads. ‘Aya’, on the other hand is pure swamp blues, all distorted guitars and droning bass and it’s certainly one of my favourite tracks on an album that lacks an obvious weak point. Of the remaining tracks, ‘long way down’ is a gorgeous, piano-led track that once again restates those Beatles influences and final track ‘half state’ is the gentle soundtrack to a night in an opium den with dream-like guitars phasing through the smoke at regular intervals.
Black rebel Motorcycle Club have been responsible for some great tracks, but this is probably their most cohesive effort. It is certainly rooted in a variety of musical styles from folk to indie to blues and rock and roll, but the band have successfully stitched all those elements to create a rich musical tapestry that is perfect to sit back and relax to after a hard weekend. Musically the band are much stronger than on their first couple of albums and the moments when the band do let go and rock out are a joy to behold. A strong, relevant album that recalls the best of mid-nineties indie, seventies pyschedelia and fifties blues whilst still sounding contemporary, it is a triumph.