CD Review: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat The Devil’s Tattoo

Review: Lana Harris

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club   Black Rebel Motorcycle Club burst from the deep south of the USA and appeared on the music scene at around the same time as we were all worrying about the millennium bug. They were often touted as being ‘the band to take rock forward into the new millennium’ and with this expectation yapping at their heels they crossed the century border.

A decade on, BRMC are still making rock records, their most recent offering entitled Beat the Devil’s Tattoo. The band’s sound has since acquired other labels and modifiers including garage rock,

swamp rock, blues, country, indie pop and psych-garage. Elements of stoner rock appear in Beat The Devil’s Tattoo too, the characteristic fuzzy guitars and drawling lyrics of the genre weaved with a 70’s rock vibe. Nowhere is this more prevalent than on tracks ‘War Machine’ and ‘Aya’, droning slow burners bloated with distorted guitars that alternatively smoulder and blister.
Beat the Devil’s Tattoo opens with the track of the same name and which also happens to be the first single release. It deserves to be. ‘Beat the Devil’s Tattoo’ is a strong opener for the album. Its slow and swampy tones are contrasted with tambourine jangles, country guitar and vocals that are more than just drawl – lyrics are almost drooled on this track. Lyrical harmonies are prevalent throughout the song and add depth to a track which, while leisurely executed, is not lazily put together. ‘River Styx’ is another track which crawled from the swamps surrounding the home town. It maintains the eerie underworld feel implied by its title amongst fuzzy guitar work and more of those drawn out vocals.

Second track ‘Conscience Killer’ is gutsy, the big guitar sounds leaving no doubt that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are comfortable in the garage rock genre. Lyrically, the words still all run together but ‘Conscience Killer’ has an easy to sing along to chorus. Harmonies are back, and BRMC demonstrate that combining their voices is a well mastered part of what makes their sound unique. ‘Mama Taught Me Better’ also uses harmonies and the garage rock format to good effect.

‘Sweet Feeling’ explains how Black Rebel Motorcycle Club gets the ‘country’ label applied to them. A gentle track concentrating on warbling lyrics and an ascetic use of guitar chords, ‘Sweet Feeling’ is choked with nostalgia and rue, emphasised by the keening of the harmonica in the background. ‘The Toll’ is similarly performed, with the addition of male/female harmonies throughout.

The mash of genres applied to BRMC has been flagged as one of the reasons why the band never did fulfil the expectations it was laden with early on. The wide span of styles applied within a single record continues with Beat the Devil’s Tattoo, and perhaps the range of tracks piled together in one album is too wide for any one listener to be able to feel resonance with all of them. But Black Rebel Motorcycle Club can write an excellent song, as demonstrated by the stand out tracks ‘War Machine’, ‘Aya’ and the title track, and individually, each track is a well crafted expression of a particular style. A good album full of quality songs that changes direction just a bit too often to be a completely satisfying ride.

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