Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Takes on Death and Loss on ‘Wrong Creatures’

Evocations of death and loss dominate the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and their progressive approach incorporating rock music's history across their career into new album Wrong Creatures.

Wrong Creatures
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Abstract Dragon
12 Jan 2018

Darkness and despair resonate across
Wrong Creatures, the new album by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, as it evokes death and an attitude confronting loss and its effects in life. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s career has encapsulated a moody attitude, from their band name in reference to 1953 film The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando as the leader of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, to the garage rock of the band’s early albums. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have highlighted the history of rock music across their catalog with varying and satisfying results, with the acoustic-driven Howl in 2005 shifting further to the alternative and raw music explored over the past decade. The band’s 2013 album Specter at the Feast focused on the impact of the loss the band endured following the death of Michael Been, their longtime producer and father of frontman Robert Levon Been. For Wrong Creatures, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club worked with producer Nick Launay and delivered a tightly written depiction of the band’s extensive exploration of rock music.

After an eerie instrumental opening in “DFF”, the album hits hard with “Spook”, “King of Bones”, and its strongest track “Haunt”. There is no frontloading with these tracks though, merely starting the album in high gear and setting a pace. Guitar solos and chord progressions in both “Spook” and “King of Bones” highlight vocal performance and lyrical themes about death: principally foreboding and personal dread. “Haunt” explodes this atmosphere dramatically, with a slow and drawn out arrangement backing lyrics documenting lost love and broken realities. A percussive softness permeates the vocals in “Haunt” while guitar slowly creeps in to complement and intensify wailing and a quiet interlude that creates an atmosphere for the track title.

Wrong Creatures takes on loss and pain with emotional depth and imaginative arrangements, documenting a dark attitude despite fear and despair growing across its deep tracks and musical explorations. Shifting the tone in “Echo”, the song turns its tables on the object of the album’s loss, with a slightly upbeat and optimistic guitar solo facilitating a soundscape of safety. It’s an enjoyable combination of warning and reclamation, urging the object not to “throw it all away” and admitting that “I don’t want to hide” in the lyrics following the intensity of “Haunt”. If a confrontation of death serves as interpretations of the album’s overall themes, the tracks that follow “Haunt” push for new opportunities. “Echo” and “Ninth Configuration” fulfill aspects of recovery, while subsequent tracks follow this relationship further, “Question of Faith” personifies questioning pain, while “Calling Them All Away” proceeds to confront the pain head-on.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club sound at home in this album, with the exploration of various styles and genres of rock behind them, yet cleverly integrated into the moodiness and attitudes of the performances and arrangements in
Wrong Creatures. Subdued vocals and shifting representation of a myriad of instruments, beyond guitar, bass, and drums, to include sitar and keyboards most identifiable. At times, the effects of the layering and arrangements all call back to the psychedelia of the band’s first album and their stylistic ties to the post-punk of the late 1970s and 1980s. The sonic aspects of “Calling Them All Away” achieve this well, with a sitar subdued behind a growing in intensity guitar performance.

An upbeat but still dreary atmosphere occurs in “Little Thing Gone Wild,” with a very chaotic atmosphere contrasting the lyrical themes in “Circus Bazooko”. In both tracks, the singer turns on himself, and the music helps to elevate that turn as a marker for paranoia and despair. The concluding pair of tracks, “Carried from the Start” and “All Rise” highlight the overall mood and themes focused upon through the album. The effects of loss and death never offer an opportunity for preparation, but all still encounter and navigate those occurrences, and ultimately find support or push on from those moments. “All Rise” offers a glimpse of light upon the darkness of the album, but not distractingly. It’s a dare, and we all find a way to manage – here by “hanging on a single breath / screaming ’til there’s nothing left / it’s just all we’ll ever find / broken as all our minds.”

Wrong Creatures encapsulates Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s career precisely, incorporating where they’ve been and the steady exploration of different stylistic aspects of rock music across eight albums. The album’s success is structured in darkness, from strong imagery to vocalist Peter Hayes’s admittedly “dark humor” that confronts death in some respect on each track. Wrong Creatures progressively follows 2013’s Specter at the Feast, with a solid sound rooted in densely layered guitar work providing landscapes for deep lyrics, with supportive percussion. Been, Peter Hayes, and drummer Leah Shapiro bring the entirety of the band’s career out with this album.

RATING 7 / 10