This review was first
published on CLUAS in 2005
Other albums reviewed in 2005
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
A review of their album 'Howl'
The return of the mute and moody rockers sees them tuning up their acoustic guitars, blowing on some harmonicas and sitting in on Jules Jackson's Masterclass on 'How To Write The Perfect Country Song'. All resulting in the delivery of a decent enough alt-country album.
The CLUAS Verdict? 6.9 out of 10.
So here's the album that will apparently make or break the once lauded B.R.M.C. and you can give them credit for at least trying something new, even if it is an alternative country/Americana album sung by rock singers.
The cover looks like something from the seventies in keeping with their album's style: all black and white in Texan writing.
After the repetition of 'Take Them On, On Your Own' this is a welcome change of pace for the resiliently media shy band. Harmonicas bound across tracks as if to accompany your dancing feet. Gone are the riveting bass lines (along with the accusations of stealing them from other bands), borrowed melodies and throwaway lyrics. Plucked strings, bluegrass rhythms, deep gospel accompaniment and stories of sinners and devils are the order of the day. The pained vocals and blues guitar remain, popping up to layer the songs with some added production value.
From the ascending opening lines of 'Shuffle your Feet' (the intro sounds like the Dandy Warhols' 'Boys Better') the hammered bass strings of the acoustic guitar instantly have your head nodding and tapping to the clapping. It's a promising opener.
Title track 'Howl' treads familiar territory with its melody, but then again B.R.M.C.'s melodies have always sounded familiar. The single 'Ain't no Easy way Out' is a down right, great foot stomper especially when the harmonica kicks in after the chorus (although it's opening strums do remind me of 'Man of Constant Sorrow' from the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack). Despite this it'll have you dancing like a one legged hobo for a bottle of Jim Beam.
The self-deprecating 'Still suspicion holds you tight' is a decent enough tune about being happy enough with oneself but still not trusting yourself with contentment. Piano and brass are introduced in 'Promise' which is a hands-waving-in-the-air anthem which conjures up memories of some old Beatles song.
'Gospel Song' is hardly gospel musically with its arpeggiated chords, its organ only giving any value to the word. Lyrically however it's all Jesus this and Jesus that, but it outstays its welcome. 'Sympathetic Noose' on the other hand is a decent hint at what type of angst lurks in their lyrics.
There are a good few strummed ballads with added gospel vocals, all deep, warbling and serious especially on 'Devils Waiting'. These songs are filler, albeit good filler at that but out of the thirteen songs, eight stand out in my mind. A fair triumph compared to their last album.
We might get another one out of them yet. Perhaps they'll do a jazz album?