Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Baby 81

[RCA; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: good old rock ‘n’ roll
Others: Queens Of The Stone Age, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The White Stripes

Despite flirting with breaking up or becoming a duo, the leather-clad power trio of Peter Hayes, Robert Levon Been, and Nick Jago are proving themselves to be a consistent career band. Their self-titled debut for Virgin came at a time when the quasi-mainstream was begging for a rock 'n' roll revival, at the very hype and tragic crescendo of the girl/boy band epidemic. Along with The Strokes, The White Stripes, and The Hives (for some unknown reason, possibly Swedish voodoo), they formed the basis for the next fad: major label indie rock, even though we all know Anton Newcombe (Brian Jonestown Massacre) is really to blame. All things considered, it could have been a polka revival, so it wasn’t really all that bad.

However, much to the chagrin of the RIAA demon, huge sales figures aren’t and were never a part of the new rock fad. So, by the time BRMC released their more political 2003 follow-up Take Them On, On Your Own, interest was no longer high enough to make it worth Virgin’s time. The Cerberus-like corporate conglomerate dropped them like a bad soft drink line, and tensions within the band stretched to the breaking point. Drummer Jago left the guys to their lonesome during a European festival tour, after which guitarist Hayes and bassist Been returned to the land of the free and recorded their finest work to date. Howl, released in 2005, pared down their previously fuzz-drenched retro rock to center around largely acoustic Americana arrangements. While the album was a spectacular achievement both artistically and personally, it was released with next-to-no press and subsequently missed the success it truly deserved. Undeterred, the boys trudged on and Jago eventually came back, just in time to play a couple festivals and disappear into the studio to record their fourth release and first for RCA.

Baby 81 is named after a child isolated by the 2004 tsunami, who made the rounds before finally ending up with her real family. Likewise, the album reflects the random injustice and confusion of our times as well as the commitment of the scattered brave to set things right, even if it takes six tries. As Hayes explains, “It's gotta start somewhere, and if it ain't on a personal level, it's too easy to beat the crap out of governments with words. Start with yourself and hopefully you get enough people doing it on their own, and we can all come together.” And BRMC are certainly doing their own thing.

In the effort of exposing the serious side of political and social life, Hayes lyrically maintains a personal but unpretentious outlook. While his backing tracks have lost almost all of the compellingly subtle acoustic production values that characterized Howl -- minus “Am I Only” and, if you count piano, possibly “Widow” -- the righteous Southern revival swagger of these electrified riffs collect over Jago’s drums to rain down the real rawk people have mistakenly praised Kings Of Leon for providing, absolutely destroying them at their own game. BRMC are the real deal, and now that they’re on the same label as KOL, the word should be out. The Kings are dead! Long live the Rebels!

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