By Andrew Tanner.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Wrong Creatures (Vagrant)
I’m pretty sure Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have a shrine in their rehearsal room replete with melting candles, a stuffed crow and icons of their spiritual guides – the saints Lou and Nick and the shambolic order of The Jesus and Mary Chain in prominent position.
The San Francisco trio, having weathered personnel changes and serious health issues over the course of their two decade career, continue to mine a vein of dark, Goth-tinged rock that’s reliably loud, leather-clad and angsty. Their eighth album Wrong Creatures continues that tradition, but this time around guitarist Peter Hayes, bassist Robert Been and drummer Leah Shapiro tease out new possibilities with tips of the Homburg to psychedelia and shoegaze. Wrong Creatures also tackles questions their musical forbears never shied away from – death, loss, spirituality and human frailty. If you’re coming to this party, best to stick with an all-black outfit.
The first alert to new directions comes in the form of opening instrumental ‘DFF’. Tribal drums and spooky monastic drones provide the setting for swooning, ethereal vocal incantations. Whatever they’re looking to summon up, it’s nothing the Catholic hierarchy would approve of. Following tracks ‘Spook’ and ‘King of Bones’ are a return to more familiar territory, with driving fuzz bass, sneering vocals and bratty garage-rock power chording.
Then things get a little less familiar. ‘Haunt’ is a sparse melancholic ballad, anchored by a distant reverbed guitar and ghostly keyboards and adorned with an elegant, soulful vocal. The laid back vibe continues with ‘Echo’, a mid-tempo anthem that evokes both U2 and Coldplay and ranks with some of the most accessible songs the band have yet released. If it’s a play for wider radio play, it might just work.
On ‘Ninth Configuration’ BRMC get their psych on, with producer Nick Launay (INXS, Bad Seeds, Arcade Fire) layering multiple guitar atmospherics over a slinky, slow burning groove and a lyric asking the big questions about mortality and meaning. The theme continues with ‘Question of Faith’, its shuddering sonics and sombre vocal crafting a modern hymn for the doubters (‘I’m a question of faith in a shattered mind, I’m what calls you away to the world on fire’).
Elsewhere BMRC play against expectations even further with the dark, somewhat wonky carnival romp ‘Circus Bazooko’, anchored by a slyly wayward organ, and get all shoe-gazey on ‘Calling Them All Away’. Longtime fans will either love or hate the naked, piano driven emotion of epic album closer ‘All Rise’.
Having famously taking their moniker from Marlon Brando’s gang of leather clad miscreants in The Wild Ones, BMRC have for the most part been trading in a fuzzed up machismo that’s outlived many of their early peers. On Wrong Creatures they depart a little from the template, and it’s a welcome tonic. Sometimes rebellion is aided as much by subtlety as aggression.