Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Specter at the Feast

by Alexander Segall Rating:8 Release Date:2013-03-18

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have been through the mill, both emotionally and stylistically. Bassist Been lost his father, their sound engineer and producer, in 2010 while the band were on tour. Meanwhile, the band have swung between the garage-rock/shoegaze of their early years, the brilliant sidestep into acoustic country on Howl, their return to below average churn, and then the frankly bewildering electronic, self-released cut of 2008's The Effects of 333.

Since their last album, Beat the Devil's Tattoo, they've parted with one drummer and gained another, Leah Shapiro, whose solid, unobtrusive drumming underpins the meditative tone on this, their latest effort. A tribute to Been's father, there's a sense of mature rumination in these 12 songs. 'Let the Day Begin' (an apt Call cover, as Been's father was that band's singer and guitarist) and 'Returning' plumb The Velvet Underground/Jesus and Mary Chain-lite depths of their earlier work, while 'Lullaby' has hints of the Howl era jangle which still stands as some of their most interesting work.

Less focused on rock 'n' roll and more on the internal, it's telling that their debut was 13 years ago; a lot has happened to these men. They are now in their mid-to-late 30s, no longer snotty 20-somethings with their parents' record collections, dark sunglasses and leathers. 'Hate the Taste' has that down-home sound filtered through the noise-rock sides of their brains, slowly building. As on opener 'Fire Walker', the band show a sense of restraint, only exploding in the last minute of the song. 'Rival', on the other hand, shoots out of the traps at the very beginning and doesn't let up. Along with its companion in the centre of the album, 'Teenage Disease', it's probably the most by-numbers tune here. These are the shortest, most Stooges-era, Detroit-style stompers on the album, and will most likely get the boys in the front row jumping on tour.

The second-half slows right down, with 'Some Kind of Ghost' floating along on unearthly 'oohs'. 'Sometimes the Light', meanwhile, is based on washes of organ and heavily echoed vocals. It's on this end of the album that Been's loss is most keenly felt, and the album's title really hits home.

On 'Funny Games', however, there's a lot of squelch and a swirling sense of menace. There's swagger and Hayes' guitars get another stabbing workout. The crawling 'Sell It', a meditation on commercialism, ends with a falling sheet of post-rock white-noise guitar and a multi-tracked vocal outro, while 'Lose Yourself' is a suitably downbeat shuffle, which eventually reaches for the sky, drops back out, and builds all the way up again, in a tailor-made gig-ending style.

BRMC have managed to synthesise all that was good about their first three albums, and build on the measured success of Beat the Devil's Tattoo. Without doubt, they're back on track and vital again.

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