During the last album, time couldn’t save their souls. Here and now, they can’t wait for time to save themselves. Welcome back Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Welcome back Nick Jago. There’s no doubt, the countrified corner that BRMC found themselves painted into during Howl was pretty much down to his errant behaviour, so it’s not a surprise to find his restoration marking a return to the sound with which they made friends and influenced people.
It’s what we want them to do and ultimately, it’s what they’re best at. Which isn’t to say that the time that Robert Been and Peter Hayes spent getting in touch with their acoustic side has been forgotten. Howl showed that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club could be more than just fuzz and the feedback, and Baby 81 takes that idea and runs with it. Ok, it’s (very) slightly at the expense of some of the nihilistic snarl which first endeared them to us, but in exchange we get an album with charms that run deeper.
Charms such as the wide open spaces of American X, patrolled by the same Killer Droid Prog Bots that have been most recently coursing through Muse‘s nightmares. Yeah, it’s three minutes too long, but for six, rages with intergalactic anger. Then there’s Lein On Your Dreams, which manages to reinvent Word Up by Cameo for the “whatyarebellinagainst waddayagot” generation – keeping the funk, but bringing the alienation.
They even manage to find enough time to get all reflective. Twice, actually, on Not What You Wanted and All You Do Is Talk. It’s the second of those which the most successful, despite a beginning worryingly like a U2 ballad. It’s almost as if all the shit BRMC have suffered over the past few years has caused them to, wait for it, lighten up. A bit.
Not that they’ve forgotten the joy of the grind. Opener Took Out A Loan railroads along on a riff which grates like Trent Reznor‘s teeth after someone replaced his Candela with industrial strength speed; Berlin has a back’n’forth glam-rock melody which sounds like someone dragging Noddy Holder across broken glass; the wiry, claustrophobic Need Some Air is like they’ve captured a feral Interpol song and are slowly choking the life out of it with an oily rag.
All grimy, ragged, top drawer stuff. But it’s Weapon Of Choice which is the best song here, the best example of the joining up of old BRMC to new BRMC: pissed-off and indignant, but more eloquent with it; steeped in layers of swirling guitars, but applying them with more sophistication.
Given it’s gestation, it’s fairly amazing that Baby 81 wasn’t stillborn. To find it’s kicking with such vigour is little short of remarkable. Oh, welcome back BRMC.