San Francisco’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has weathered an extraordinary 17 years in the music business – rising in the age of the last rock monsters, and thriving through the ages of Napster, iTunes and Spotify with eight albums of tunes that have left their contemporaries in the dust (think, if you can, of the last time you listened to The Strokes), BRMC now definitely qualify as ‘stalwarts’.
Luckily they also still qualify as ‘awesome’. With their most recent release, this month’s Wrong Creatures, the group, which includes Peter Hayes (vocal, guitar, harmonica), Robert Levon Been (vocal, bass, guitar), and Leah Shapiro (drums), have stayed solidly on form, returning to the long-play format for the first time since 2013’s Specter at the Feast.
The first we heard of Wrong Creatures was in May last year, when the group confirmed that they were in the studio, and planning a new album release in the fall of 2017. In September last year, the band gave us a new release date, and dropped the album’s first track, “Little Thing Gone Wild,” to make up for the delay. A classic slice of BRMC guitar rock, it’s a pulsing cascade of distortion, with guitar and vocals grinding together over the aggressive bass at its core. “Little Thing Gone Wild” was quickly followed by “Haunt”, “Question of Faith”, and “King of Bones”, before the release of the album on Jan. 12.
It’s hard to call the album innovative; it’s easier to call it a refinement of garage rock’s tone, finding nuances where once strut was enough. It hasn’t gone over well with some critics, but it’s a next step that makes a lot of sense in the life of the band. The opening number, “DFF,” is gloomy and urgent, and the record establishes a dark undertone through other tracks, including “Spook” and “King of Bones,” which props up more baroque flights of fancy. “Circus Bazooko,” for instance, manages to come off as a spirited yet nightmarish waltz; and that is a combination that isn’t easy to achieve. “Calling Them All the Way” is another little surprise that this album holds, and its warped psychedelia isn’t something you’ll forget anytime soon, and Wrong Creatures holds one of its greatest pleasures for the final track. “All Rise” is a 5-minute odyssey with an unforgettable finale that is a beautifully aching piano-led crescendo. Almost by surprise, we find ourselves a long way from Take Them On, On Your Own.
BRMC are noteworthy simply for their longevity; most of us would have imagined that garage rock, with its straight-ahead riffage, would not have lasted well, as the center of musical inventiveness went from the garage to the MacBook Pro, and the superstar producer replaced the guitar hero. But Wrong Creatures is a worthwhile discovery for the lesson that if a band spend two decades learning their tone, their style, and their act; learning how to pour their creativity through their instruments and find the shape of what they want to say; doing the hard work of being a band – the result is never dull.
Photo courtesy of Vagrant (Credit: James Minchin)
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club plays the Fox Theater Oakland, CA on Thur., February 22, 2018 // Show: 8:00 pm