BRMC Beat Coolness With Art on Wrong Creatures
BRMC Beat Coolness With Art on Wrong Creatures
It seems impossible to discuss anything from or about the band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club without having to somehow distance oneself from them culturally or subtly disrespect their image, look, sound, place of origin, or vocal delivery. Yes, they dress like beatniks, are from San Francisco, take their name from a Marlon Brando movie, and have an affinity for black leather jackets. They visually and aurally represent a sort of rebellious rock n’ roll attitude and style even though their music isn’t exactly rebellious, groundbreaking or dangerous.
They are cool, in the most vintage and easily recognizable sort of way (leather, guitars, and good looks), but only if you consider said look and sound to be such. Why do we need to excuse BRMC’s look or disparage it in order to talk about their music? It’s a distraction, much like the whole cool “thing” is. Especially since their music is just so darn good…regardless of what’s “cool.” The type of music BRMC made on Wrong Creatures goes beyond their own following’s definition of cool or good. It crosses boundaries, as a band’s best work should.
BRMC compose their music in a world encompassed by four corners: drum, bass, guitar, and vocals. They have done this since their first album, B.R.M.C., was released way back in 2001. Lumped, rather improperly, in with the retro-rock and blues movement heroes The White Stripes and The Black Keys, BRMC offered more than the stripped down angsty vocals and bee/buzzsaw sounding guitar riffs those bands (admittedly very awesomely) offered. BRMC added a healthy helping of 80s and 90s shoegaze along with a desert wide noir sound that befitted a band who looked too cool for arenas but, in reality, were built for them.
With slightly more blunt and poetically hazy lyrics, they broke spiritual instead of bad in most of their songs without losing their edginess. This was no surprise from a band who named one of their albums HOWL, the same title of a rather notorious(ly good) poem by Allen Ginsburg, a compatriot of fellow San Fran beatnik poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. BRMC bang out rhythms that are befitting of their rock n’ roll tribe, without being esoteric. They often reach those outside their sonic acolytes, but haven’t done so as well as they have with the songs on Wrong Creatures.
Why would Pearl Jam need to start crooning over synths and only drop a guitar line here and in a song to be considered “mature”? Or make an album of nothing but acoustic guitar ballads to be considered “mature”? No. Maturity comes when a band becomes fully comfortable in their own skin, know what works and what doesn’t, and understands themselves completely from their look to their choice of instruments. BRMC reach this level on Wrong Creatures. Taking the best from their (amazing as it is to ponder) now nearly 20 year career and coming up with songs that flow into one another, run at different speeds and tempos, yet are instantly recognizable as BRMC songs, BRMC not only come full circle, they complete their circle. Songs like the standout “Carried From The Start” with its Doors-ian stomp (a band BRMC have way more in common with than their oft compared to The Jesus and Mary Chain). Organ into and outro, and psychedelic, yet simultaneously earthen, guitar tones encompasses everything that’s best about BRMC in one song. “Echo” with its Velvet(y) Underground slink (another band more spiritually akin to BRMC than TJAMC) and its clanging U2-ish guitar (a band BRMC don’t have much in common with sonically, but whom BRMC themselves have influenced-listen to “American Soul” off Songs of Experience as proof) creates a new BRMC experience without eschewing their roots or reinventing themselves.
“Haunt,” another of the album’s standout tracks embodies the type of elevation that BRMC often deals in, but in a more ghostly rather than spiritual way. It’s one of those rare tracks that can define an album. “Ninth Configuration” marries desert noir licks with slow blues rhythms and hard rock riffs, yet doesn’t fall discernibly into either as a genre when listening to it. Songs like “Ninth Configuration” define songwriting maturity in a compositional sense, and it’s just one of many songs on Wrong Creatures that does. Even lead single “Little Thing Gone Wrong” with its attention grabbing guitar lines and slightly more throwaway status in an artistic sense, as a lead single often is, is one of the most interesting and complex lead singles BRMC has dared us with.
BRMC might or might not be the coolest band on the planet, but they are definitely one of the most artistic. Wrong Creatures will definitely satisfy the basest of their musical tribe. Their beats and riffs here transcend the base tribalism of the type that dominates today’s music, pop, and art cultures though. Rock n’ roll is the great unifier, and BRMC, despite their tribal coolness trappings, are definitely a rock n’ roll band that unites its listeners.
Watch BRMC unite the crowd at The Underground on May 9th. Tickets available here!