Monday, March 29, 2010

BRMC's "Beat the Devil's Tattoo"

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s first big single, “Whatever happened to my Rock and Roll?,” back in 2001, asked a question I didn’t care to think about at the time. BRMC’s whole ethos shouted (just as their singing did) that we needed a return to 'real,' bawdy, bold, ROCK music.

Having lived through Oasis’s heyday in Manchester, when big anthemic rock music was all you were allowed to hear, BRMC’s complaint seemed out of place, even counter-intuitive. Better to ask about the missing indie, post-punk, industrial, or in fact almost any other genre, than to call for more tough-guy bombast.

Watching them at Glastonbury festival that year, they looked the part too – the part of black leather-clad, macho, rockers. But then I started to hear something really unexpected from them. More than just posturing, the band built but moody, dark melodies driven principally by really inventive bass parts. They won me over slowly, always serious about what they were doing, and often bold in the moves they made (particularly in exploring their own musical roots on 2005’s “Howl”).

Now they bring us “Beat the Devil's Tattoo,” their fifth major release. “Beat the Devil's Tattoo” is certainly a rock album, true to form. It has lots of what BRMC do best: massive overdriven bass; rolling, primal drum lines, sinister vocals washing under masses of reverb. Some great material comes out of this mix, and new drummer Leah Shapiro fits very well into BRMC’s long established sound.

It might have been nice if Shapiro had destabilized BRMC a little more in fact - listening to “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” makes you feel at times like they could have pushed further to do something more new for them, like “Howl.” The band's sound has already been solidly defined, and this album doesn't do much to revise that. This album is not the best work the band have done over the last 11 years then, but it tells me again that they were right and I was wrong – there is still a place for out and out rock music, which takes itself seriously and plays in and out of darkness.