Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Beat The Devil’s Tattoo
April 20, 2010

Reading an interview with Robert Levon Been in the mid-2000s, I was disturbed by a certain remark he made regarding Nine Inch Nails. He mentioned not only liking the band but at some point, if his band ever gets that big, getting a stage set up like NIN had at the time. After minor heart palpitations subsided I disregarded the comments fairly quickly. However, my initial concerns were confirmed with the release of 2008’s The Effects of 333.

It was, for all intents and purposes, a sluggish collection of barely experimental instrumentals. This compilation of should’ve-been-B-sides was released entirely online, available for purchase through their website. It didn’t take any kind of record industry genius to realise from where the majority of the influence was sourced. Regardless, I gave BRMC the benefit of the doubt and their latest release Beat the Devil’s Tattoo is not half bad. Well that’s not entirely true, a good half of the album is fairly uninspired but it’s not without moments of leather-clad shine.

Speaking to BRMC fans, I don’t know how much of a polarising effect Howl really had. Listening to the legend it makes it sound as if it was the equivalent of The Beatles releasing an album of Rolling Stones covers. Most fans like the album and few were craving a return to the supposed halcyon days of BRMC and Take Them On, On Your Own – the days when they were trying to be the successors to their honey suckling idols. Personally, Howl is my favourite. They forgot about where their rock & roll went and looked at where it came from. The Beat generation inspired blues/folk/gospel mash-up of the album made even little Jack White look disingenuous. With that said, the real gems were on the Sessions EP.

Regardless, the band decided to please both sides with Baby 81. The only problem was, it didn’t quite gel. They tried to fuse the two, equally stylish, sides of BRMC whilst still trying to get in whatever little experimentation one can expect from them. The result was an album that rolled like an egg.

Now the band seems to have found some kind of cohesion. Their current sound is the best representation of their career up to this point. The problem is the songs themselves don’t exactly shine and the pretence is starting to wear thin. I’ll admit that the eponymous first track had me wondering why I don’t wear more black and drink more Jack Daniels. Drummer Nick Jago’s replacement Leah Shapiro has a sound oddly evocative of Jago’s tom-tom styling. She hasn’t brought in anything new but she hasn’t taken anything away either.

‘Conscience Killer’ proves the band brings out the real tunes when they take themselves less seriously. It’s reminiscent of earlier single ‘We’re All In Love’.

‘War Machine’ is a redundant Nine Inch Nails throwback. It’s not without novelty value though, since the bassline mimics almost exactly what my yawn sounds like. ‘Sweet Feeling’ reminds you why Peter Hayes is the soul of the band and is easily one of their best songs yet.

I’d heard a demo of the track ‘Evol’ some years ago and was similarly unimpressed. The addition of distortion doesn’t save it.

The album’s salvation is hinted at in ‘River Styx’, a genuinely good and interesting track, though still with Levon Been’s usual Eric Draven ennui-saturated lyrics. The music, though, is raucously infectious. The same goes for cheesily titled ‘Shadow’s Keeper’. ‘Long Way Down’ is just that before finishing with needlessly long ‘Half State’.

With five studio albums preceding it, if you’re not a fan yet then Beat The Devil’s Tattoo won’t make you one. I’ll end with another quote from Robert Levon Been who, in an interview with thelondonpaper stated that the band’s ambition with each album was to reject the previous one. ‘Rebelling against themselves’ as it were. Instead, it looks as if they’re doing exactly the opposite. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s what makes Beat The Devil’s Tattoo such an average album.