If your band is going to be forever associated with a single word, you don’t want it to be ‘whatever’. You want it to be ‘throbbing’. Or ‘moistening’. ‘Stiffening’. Or ‘sexual-dynamite’. Yes, that’s two words, but they’re hyphenated, so it’s fine. Anyway. Imagine that on your business card.
But for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club the word would most certainly be ‘whatever’. Not that it started with negative connotations. No, it started as a deep, dark and mysterious ‘whatever’. A Brando-esque phrase, delivered with a smirk, a cloud of smoke and an underlying air of rebellious attitude. God, it was moistening.
But through an underwhelming second record, an errant drummer and a hasty departure from the major label bosom, that initial ‘whatever’ spiralled into an ever decreasing cycle of less caring ‘whatever’s. From rebels without a cause, through So-Cali Clueless hand-waving dismissal to a literal disinterest.
So Whatever Happened To Black Rebel Motorcycle Club? Well, they’re still here. Still going. And they still sound pretty much identical to how they did when they first arrived. All distortion drenched psychedelia, swampy blues and the occasional acoustic interlude to sorrowfully long for something or other.
Does the adherence to their stylistic cues give them integrity? Or a lack of imagination? One man’s sincerity is another man’s intractability. Or inability to innovate.
But the thing with BRMC is that in so many ways, their re-appropriation of these things is welcome. They are undeniably good at this whole nihilism-is-what-we-believe-in shtick, and in all honesty there aren’t that many black-clad avengers left to stick it to the man. And these guys have been doing it for years. They’ve got to be pretty handy at it.
Beat The Devil’s Tattoo does, a bit. The opening track is an intoxicating, T-Rex-in-the-bayou stomp. Evol soars in a fashion suggestive that it’s little more than a gospel choir and a blatant medical metaphor away from Spiritualized-level fervour, and the softer moments (Sweet Feeling’s Gone; The Toll; Long Way Down) are all surprisingly subtle and surprisingly successful.
But War Machine is all noised-up with nowhere to go, crashing around with stunning inelegance. Apparently it’s political. Unfortunately the cack-handedness leaves you with the overwhelming desire to go lobby for whichever party is currently championing the other view. Aya is just dull, and no-one since 1974 can call a song River Styx and keep a straight face.
Broadly speaking, Beat The Devil’s Tattoo is OK. It’s fun in places. Essentially it’s a middling addition to a probably slightly underrated canon. Maybe it’s best to leave it as we came in: Beat The Devil’s Tattoo is just a bit ‘whatever’.