Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

by Scott Thill


Feeling Groovy?: The B.R.M.C. Blows Up

Taking a look at the cover of B.R.M.C.‘s self-titled debut promo, you might get the impression that you’re in for a moody, dark trip through some power trio’s noodlings. All the signs are there—three lonesome-looking hepcats, two of them in leather jackets, looking down in the midst of some aloof melancholia, one looking skyward in disinterestedness. Messed-up hair. Didn’t anyone tell these guys they were at a photo shoot? The camera’s over here!

But they know that, don’t they? Setting oneself apart from the swirling media is sometimes the chief method of settling into it.

cover art

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club


Except that the press materials and/or the band’s countless pre-release interviews are either slamming the band’s too-heavy reliance upon those that came before them—Oasis, Jesus and Mary Chain, the Stones, Primal Scream—or they’re leaning on said precursors’ lavish praise. Like this:

“Before B.R.M.C. even started to pursue a label deal, record companies were calling them and contemporaries such as Oasis’ Noel Gallagher, Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim Reid and Johnny Marr were singing their praises” (emphasis smarmily added).

That Virgin Records publicity promo might mean different things to different people, but its main purpose is to sell the B.M.R.C. to a cool-starved public in an era of corny metal and whiteboy rapping. Which is where the rub comes in. Even the band is bristling at the guilt-by-association marketing maneuver. “We grew up with him in a house!” singer-bassist-guitarist Robert Turner joked when a L.A. Weekly reporter asked about Gallagher’s affinity for the band. “Wasn’t he your adopted half brother?” singer-guitarist-bassist Peter Hayes continued, needling drummer Nick Jago.

Although that might be considered biting the hand that feeds them, the B.M.R.C. are actually related to their contemporaries in some small way: Turner’s pop is Michael Been, main man for the ‘80s conscious-wavers The Call—who are mostly remembered for “The Walls Came Down”, a politically-conscious tune that predicted the fallout from the Reagan administration. In an ironic aside, Been also penned Gore’s campaign theme “Let the Day Begin”.

So combine all of that data and then factor in the given that the band takes its name from Brando’s gang in the The Wild One, and man, do you have yourself a hipster soup of expectation and hyperbole or what? Which begs the ultimate question—are they any good?

Next question!

It’s simply too hard to judge, to be fair to the B.R.M.C., who have really been together only a few years. The Northern California music scene is filled with leather-jacketed bohemians dying to release a disc, and these guys fit right in with the majority of them. Their music is by turns derivative, catchy, strained, and hypnotic—everything you find in music not played on the radio these days. “Spread Your Love”, for example, sounds so close to “Spirit in the Sky” in chordplay and sound that one wonders whether they did it on purpose, as an intertextual exercise. “Whatever Happened to My Rock n’ Roll (punk song)” screams for attention but not in the way Iggy and the Stooges might have, although its extended grunge ending is a nice change of pace before it wears out its welcome. The title itself is a puzzle—does the lowercase and parenthesized “(punk song)” expect us to take it seriously, or is it a tongue-in-cheek jab at today’s hyper-mainstream, so-called punk rock, like Blink-182 and Rancid? Since it’s almost the only song on the album with something resembling a tempo beyond the standard strum-and-gaze exercise, it’s hard to pigeonhole.

Then you get started thinking about why you’re trying to pigeonhole the band. It’s a chicken-egg cycle that you’ve been roped into, having been subjected to a barrage of data—press hype, Oasis, Gallagher, Jesus and Mary Chain, the Call, The Wild One, the term “Rebel”, Brando, leather jackets, Al Gore, etc.—and then asked to judge some twentysomethings’—the press release actually lists their ages(!)—first stab at stardom on its own merit. It could drive someone crazy, especially when they sound eerily like…Love and Rockets?

You just have to chuck all that nonsense aside, if you can, and see if the tunes carry you along with them as they continue on their dreamy, navel-gazing way. And sometimes they do, although Hayes and Turner don’t possess the most addictive of voices, and do not demonstrate the range found in similar-minded bands—like Portland’s Dandy Warhols, the cream of this particular type of crop, in my opinion. Sometimes songs like the moody “As Sure as the Sun” hook you in and hold you, making you forget that they’re seven minutes long. The equally catchy “Love Hurts” accomplishes the same feat, and even as old-hat and illogical as it may seem, “Whatever Happened to My Rock n’ Roll (punk song)” can hold its rollicking own.

But ultimately B.R.M.C.‘s disc is over too quick, leaving a sort of hunger behind. Maybe it’s a hunger for substance without the stance. Maybe it’s just a hunger for a vocal that clears the monotone hurdle placed in almost every track. But a void is a void, as they say. Even if it’s an absence, it’s still a presence.

Some also say this: different strokes for different folks. I don’t want to slam the B.R.M.C. for giving it a good shot, or their fans for liking them. They’re not for everybody. Just don’t worry if you walk away from this disc scratching your head wondering what Gallagher, Marr, and Reid were thinking.

Ok, maybe not Gallagher.

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