A couple years ago, the debut album by San Francisco’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was a cool blast of loud, raw rock ‘n’ roll; nothing really original, mind you, but it had a swagger to it like few releases from that year possessed. Much has been made of their devotion to UK noise pop geniuses The Jesus and Mary Chain, but that fuzzed-out guitar sound was only a fraction of what the band (more casually known as BRMC) brought to the table. Sure, you had that distorted, back-to-basics vibe of JAMC, but you also had waves of roaring guitars similar to early ‘90s shoegazers Ride, the blissed-out grooves of The Stone Roses, and every so often, a massive, adrenaline-fueled jolt of Stooges or Velvet Underground style feedback. That first album was a bit on the sloppy side, but its highs were thrilling, on such tracks as the sultry “Love Burns”, the sauntering “Red Eyes and Tears”, the bluesy punk of “Spread Your Love”, and one of 2001’s best songs, the monstrous, audacious punk of “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll (punk song)”. Inconsistencies aside, fans had every reason to be excited about the next album by this trio.
Take Them On, On Your Own is a good album, but some may be disappointed with just how much the band plays it safe. The production on the record, which was recorded in London (they had since relocated there), is a huge improvement over the first album as bassist/singer Robert Turner’s bass resonates, guitarist/singer Peter Hayes’s guitars are piercing, and Nick Jago’s superb drumming gives the band a power that the Jesus and Mary Chain never had. There are some songs that are brilliant doses loud guitar rock, but any sense of adventurousness has gone out the window. It would have been interesting to hear the band take the more brooding sound of songs like “Red Eyes and Tears” and “As Sure as the Sun” into new territory, but instead, the emphasis is strictly on the louder, more driving tunes. It sounds great, but strip the tracks down to their core, and most of them are painfully ordinary. In fact, if you’re looking for a band to compare these guys to, it’d have to be Oasis: it’s good, safe music, but little more than that.
Once you get over the initial disappointment of the pedestrian quality of the music, you still can’t help but warm up to much of the record. It’s easy to lose yourself in the steady drone of guitars and supercool vocals by Turner and Hayes, and that’s the record’s one redeeming quality. “Stop”, the album’s opening track and first single, is a great, raw, garage rocker: Hayes’s guitar licks are a bit on the ordinary side, greatly resembling Noel Gallagher’s work, but it’s Turner’s groovy, hypnotic bassline that makes the song what it is. An outstanding bassist, Turner gives the song a confident swagger, making it impossible for the listener not to bob their head along. Much of Take Them On, On Your Own continues in that same vein: “Six Barrel Shotgun” blends a ferocious sound with some truly goofy lyrics (“Son Sunday’s sun never shone on me”), while “We’re All in Love” has a stripped-down, ‘60s garage rock feel, bolstered by Hayes’s slick slide guitar licks.
The really good stuff doesn’t come around until late in the album. The terrific “U.S. Government”, which most fans already know by now (it was a bonus track on the Japanese version of the first album), is the band at its most passionate, something you feel instantly in Jago’s insistent, minimalist drumming (not unlike Maureen Tucker’s work on the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat), as well as in the caustic lyrics: “I spit my faith on the city pavement, to keep a smile / I bought my legs from the US government, to keep me in line.” The acoustic ballad “And I’m Aching” provides the album’s biggest surprise, as the band delves into more personal territory, utilizing a lilting acoustic guitar accompaniment; it’s nothing we haven’t heard before (hell, nothing here is), but it shows a sweet quality to BRMC that we didn’t expect. The album comes to a rousing finish on the last two tracks: “Rise or Fall” is driven by a wicked bassline by Turner, as Hayes lets loose with some killer guitar fills, and the seven-minute jam “Heart + Soul” continues where “Stop” left off, bringing the album back to the simplified, catchy rock that started it all off.
If Take Them On, On Your Own has a similarity to its predecessor, it’s that it goes on for too long. We’re bombarded by too much of the same thing here, more than the previous album, in fact, and several tracks become tiring after a while. The moronic “Ha Ha High Babe” is a waste of time, a boring exercise in atmospherics, “Generation” sounds like a subpar Oasis B-side, while the drowsy “Shade of Blue” sleepwalks during its four minutes. “Suddenly” is especially disappointing, sounding little more than a lumbering tribute to tired dinosaur rock.
The one good thing about BRMC’s new album is how accessible it is. The downside about it is also how accessible it is. It sounds like they’ve taken the easy route, sounding nowhere near as bold as they did on their first album. Commercial success beckons for this band, and Take Them On, On Your Own gives listeners enough quality guitar rock, which is always good, but its sheer mundaneness makes the whole experience a bit hollow. It’s still worthy of a mild recommendation, but you’ve got to wonder if such BRMC can get away such laziness a second time around.