Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
The Elements. It's not much of a name. Fortunately, group members concurred, changing their moniker to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, which they lifted from the '50s Marlon Brando movie, The Wild One.
B.R.M.C. formed in '98 with high school pals, Peter Hayes (guitar/vocals) and Robert Turner (bass/keyboards/vocals). They, in turn, recruited Englishman Nick Jago (drums). The group built a solid San Francisco base before extending their reach to the L.A. club circuit. In '01, they released their self-titled debut, which won high praise from fellow musicians (including Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr).
Immediately they were opening for the Dandy Warhols. '03 saw the release of "Take Them On, On Your Own" featuring the title track. They were on a roll. Another album and successful tour and who knows? But it was not to be.
It's extremely risky for a group to abruptly change its sound from one album to the next. They are rarely rewarded for their efforts. More often than not, existing fans are disappointed and depart in droves while there is little opportunity to attract new ones. Still, that's what B.R.M.C. did on '05 release "Howl."
Seemed Jago had a tendency to miss shows forcing Hayes and Turner to do acoustic sets. And since B.R.M.C. had long talked about doing a Folk album, here was the opportunity. They stripped their neo-Punk sound down to acoustic guitar, bass and harmonica on several tracks. Amid this change Turner dropped his stage name returning to his real one, Robert Levon Been. Also, Jago only managed to contribute his talents to one song, "Promise," out of 13 on the album.
The band's fourth album, "Baby 81," had it's U.S. release in May, '07 (just a day after the set was issued in the U.K.). Though Jago was onboard for the recording sessions he was not part of the subsequent tour. "I am fired again and to be honest with you I respect their decision," said Jago. However, the band put a softer spin on it. "Nick won't be joining us for the upcoming European tour, but it's not true that he is fired," said a statement. "We just feel Nick needs time to sort out exactly what he wants right now." The Ravonettes touring drummer Leah Shaprio took over.
Later in '08, B.R.M.C. issued their instrumental album "The Effects Of 333," which was available for digital download through their music store at 3:33 A.M Pacific Time on 11/01/08.
The following year saw the release of a live DVD, appropriately titled "Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Live." The set was recorded during the "Baby 81" tour. Also, the song "Done All Wrong" was heard on the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack.
Next up was the group's sixth studio effort, '10's "Beat The Devil's Tattoo," which was the group's first studio album with Shapiro.
Less than half a year after the release of "Beat The Devil's Tattoo," Been's father, Michael, passed away (in '10) while on tour with the band. The elder Been had been the frontman for The Call, but more recently, he'd served as B.R.M.C.'s sound man. In addition, he had long been a mentor to the group.
After an extended hiatus, B.R.M.C. returned to performing and recorded "Specter At The Feast."
On stage at the Troubadour in L.A., B.R.M.C. opened with a cover of The Call's "Let The Day Begin." The group also looked for a song by The Call they could cover for "Specter At The Feast." "I don't think any of us actually thought 'Let The Day Begin' would be the one, though," said Been. "It wasn't until one day Leah just started storming away on a new drumbeat. We all jumped in on bass and guitar, and literally ten minutes later the song was wrapped."
The band used "Specter At The Feast" as a way to overcome Michael's passing. "No one really wanted to find those words or dig in deep," said Been. "You have to go back again and dig a bit deeper, and it was excruciating."
However, "Specter At The Feast" was more than a tribute album.
"We wanted to attempt to take people on a ride and have songs crossfade and reach over and different tricks we'd always wanted to do, it was kind of fun to get to play around with that," added Been.
2003 Take Them On, On Your Own
2007 Baby 81
2008 The Effects Of 333
2010 Beat The Devil's Tattoo
2013 Specter At The Feast
Much of "The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club" is an acoustic/electric blend of songs sung in a haze (and processing). There is a dream-like quality though the album does feature the brilliant protest song "Whatever Happened To My Rock 'n' Roll (Punk Song)" - with the guitars cutting like well sharpened knives. But "Awake" sounds dead on its feet. This CD got B.R.M.C. compared to the Jesus Mary Chain. That didn't hurt but it didn't help much either.
"Take Them On, On Your Own" amps up the energy and drills down. From the opening track "Stop," a bare-bones Rocker, to the hot guitar licks on closing track "Heart + Soul," this album represents a major step up for B.R.M.C. "Six Barrel Shotgun," with the mixed down vocals and dense sound, and "We're All In Love" have an undeniable power. This is an album to get.
"Howl," the name taken from the famous Allen Ginsberg poem, shows what happens when your drummer takes a hike. There's no need for an "Unplugged" B.R.M.C. album because this is it. People will either love or hate the album's raw intimacy.
The set starts agreeably enough with the boppin' acoustic tune "Shuffle Your Feet." "Ain't No Easy Way," the first single, is appealing with its harmonica and slide guitar arrangement. Had they stayed in that vein the album might have worked. Hayes, sounding like a Dylan impersonator on No-Doz, tries to give the songs some emotional energy but the arrangements don't support him.
Now we're back on track. B.R.M.C. use grit and muscle to power their way through "Baby 81." Swaggering vocals and dirty guitars dominate "Take Out A Loan," " Berlin" and "Weapon Of Choice." "Window" sounds like Siouxsie & The Banshees (circa "Dear Prudence") backing John Lennon. The mid-tempo "Cold Wind" is effective through "Lien On Your Dreams (nice pun) is, as might be expected, dreamy, and a bit of a waste. That slight misstep aside, "Baby 81" scores with the haunting "Killing The Light," "Need Some Air" and "American X."
"Beat The Devil's Tattoo" follows "Baby 81's" noise-fest model but with a few diversions. "Mama Taught Me Better," with typically buried vocals, rips, while "River Styx" is carried by an engaging shuffle. The ballads range from OK ("Sweet Feeling") to weak ("The Toll") and couple tracks succumb to the din. However, "Evol" and the epic "Bad Blood," rise above it.
For obvious reasons, many tracks on "Specter At The Feast" sound haunted and contemplative. But things improve when the group pulls out of their dour state.
"Hate The Taste" is a hypnotic Rocker and "Rival" is a pure shot of Noise Rock.
"Teenage Disease" sounds, in a very good way, like it was recorded from the back of an auditorium. The cover of The Call's "Let The Day Begin" is simply faithful to the original.