Review Summary: Although somewhat lost in the shuffle of great garage rock albums of the last decade, B.R.M.C. mixes the band's various blues, shoegaze, punk (and many more) influences to create an excellent debut. (8.3/10)
Let us take a trip back, boys and girls, to spring of the lovely year of 2001. America was recently recovering from the infamously dunderheaded Y2K panic, and was unknowingly on the verge of entering its currently-ongoing war on terror. Perhaps it was this commonplace sense of fear and paranoia that made music critics throughout the West feel as if rock and roll was in need of “saving”. After all, music has always been a release for many a man on hard times, and Americans were certainly going to be in need of a release with the problems that were to come. By the turn of the new millennium, however, America’s favorite adopted musical pastime was being led by the likes of Linkin Park, Creed, and an up-and-coming group named (gulp) Nickelback. Understandably, there was a growing discontent with the onslaught of nu-metal and post-grunge that was being forced down the country’s collective throat. “Pure” rockers across the world were looking for something that sounded fresh and innovative, yet at the same time recalled the classic rock days of the 70’s and 80’s (minus the hair-metal, of course).
Enter the “garage rock revolution”: a revival of the raw, punkish, and guitar-centric style of 70’s bands such as Television and The Stooges. Led by the “The” bands, The Strokes, The Vines, The Hives, and The White Stripes, rock and roll seemed to have found their “saviors” in the form of messy-headed, energized, and stylish kids from the various city suburbs across the nation. With their collective panache and general talent, the bands of the garage rock revival became critical darlings, and suddenly there seemed a genuine re-interest in rock music from kids and critics alike. Did rock truly need saving? Perhaps not, maybe music journalists were just pissed with having to listen to ***ty music--hell, the number one “rock” song of 2001 was by Lifehouse. Nevertheless, many of the groups belonging to this revival were undoubtedly talented and seemed to have promising futures, even if only a select few of them remained on the map in the years ahead or not.
One of the leading bands of this revival was San Francisco’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who takes their name from the fictional biker gang in Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One”. Right off the bat, it’s easy to see that the trio of vocalist/guitarist Peter Hayes, vocalist/bassist Robert Levon Been, and then-drummer Nick Jago’s style was an important part of their total package. On the cover of their excellent debut album, B.R.M.C., the three nailed the classic “we’ll stare off the space and look like we don’t give a ***” photo. Thankfully, the band saved themselves from potential ridicule by creating an album of 11 solid tracks, some of them excellent, mixing styles that range from shoegaze to punk to the blues along the way.
Album opener “Love Burns” is one of those said “excellent” tracks, starting off with some simple acoustic strumming, with the noise of shoegaze-y guitars slowly building behind it, until Nick Jago (whose work is excellent, and severely underrated, here) brings in a pounding beat to top it off. As Hayes’ echoing croon laments a lost love who left when he “told her he loved her today”, the layers of guitar tracks keep building and building, with the lead getting fuzzier and more distorted as the song progresses. It all builds to a climax, effectively bringing the listener on for its ride, until all the distortion drops, leaving the lone acoustic strumming that began the song to finish it as well.
The album’s greatest triumph, however follows with “Red Eyes and Tears”, bringing along with an undeniable, driving rhythm behind trance-inducing, reverb-dripped guitars. Armed with a couple sensational, fuzzed-out riffs in the song’s choruses and Peter Hayes’ baritone becoming one with the barrage of feedback on dubbed guitars, “Tears” lets the listener know quickly that these three mean business. “I’m in love”, Hayes drones, and not many would disagree with him by this point in the album.
“Whatever Happened to My Rock & Roll” comes along next, as if the three are fully aware of their then-new classification as rock saviors. It’s another strong track, more punk-based than any other song on the record, losing the wall of guitar noise created on most other tracks in favor of a more up-tempo style. While it is hampered by an overly-extended outro, the song more than holds its own as a standout on the album.
All of the 11 tracks on this fairly forgotten gem of an album are at the least, solid. “White Palms” finds Hayes going into full-on rock star mode, essentially challenging Jesus by asking “Jesus, when you going to come back/ Jesus, I dare you to come back”. This is nothing, though, compared to the song’s outro, stating “I wouldn’t have come back if I’d have been Jesus/I’m the kind of guy who leaves the scene of the crime”, all over cheerful acoustic chords. It’s one of the rare instances of pleasant blasphemy recorded on tape. “Spread Your Love” is another five-star track, and is the most “bluesy” on the album. Driven by a stellar, uber-fuzzed bass riff and Hayes and Been’s trading of vocals--which complement each other very well throughout the album--the track could be considered a preview of the path the group would decide to take with their later albums. “Awake” is highlighted by more strong guitar work and noise-building technique, with the song descending into utter chaos with its siren-like, My Bloody Valentine-sounding guitars as it finishes up.
So why does B.R.M.C. only get a 4 with an album with this many highlights? Well, like many other shoegaze or shoegaze-derived albums, many of B.R.M.C.’s tracks tend to carry on a bit long and sound very similar to each other. The album begins to drag slightly once one gets by the initial rush of hearing the first handful of tracks; 7 of the 11 songs on the album run five minutes long, with three lasting over 6 minutes. This leads to a good amount of time on the record simply being taken up by noise-making guitar sound-walls, which by the end of the album begin to sound somewhat repetitive. While the second half of the album is solid all the way around, the only must-hear track would be the aforementioned “Spread Your Love”, which is only because it changes its style up so drastically from the tracks surrounding it that it sounds different. There is also the issue of the vocals/lyrics of the record: they’re nothing special. There’s some loose religious themes going on in here, but one may have to dig deep to find it.
B.R.M.C. should be looked back on as a landmark record in terms of it being an essential part of the first real rock “movement” of the 21st century. It is highlighted by a few amazing tracks, and is only faulted by the repetitiveness of the genre they borrow the most from. For anyone looking for what a young, garage-band version of My Bloody Valentine may sound like if they mixed with the Jesus and Mary Chain, check out B.R.M.C.;you won’t regret it.