Five years since the release of Howl and the subsequent internal wranglings of the group began to surface, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club seem destined to be remembered for what they could have achieved but didn’t quite get there. With the release of new studio album Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, their first LP on their own Abstract Dragon label, the failed expectations loom large.
Once again featuring the dual vocal talents of Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been, this album sees the trio completed with the addition of ex-Raveonette Leah Shapiro on drumming duties. Recorded in the same studio as Howl, BRMC could be suspected of attempting to rekindle some of the understated folk-rock charm of that record. Infected by the harmonica, the blues influences still run rampant and, with its uneven mix of psychedelia, Beat The Devil’s Tattoo is more of the same really, containing no surprises and, conversely, nothing to get excited about either.
Choosing an unwise opener sets the tone for disappointment; the title single sounds like a rougher-round-the-edges Kasabian reject, mostly due to the Sergio-esque vocal leanings and it is one of the weakest and unmemorable tracks featured here. Occasionally BRMC manage to get it together long enough to pull a much-needed, fiercer number out of the bag. Rekindling their best material, -Bad Blood’ and -Mama Taught Me Better’ are the best tracks, alongside the snarling ‘Conscience Killer’, with the bass smacking off the drums and an on-the-ball attitude shooting through. If only this trend continued for just a few more songs.
Sadly, the second half of the album is where things most noticeably fall flat, especially when the listener is treated to 10 minutes of -Half-State’ – yes, 10 minutes. Thankfully it’s not too bad – the light psychedelic rock is a bit patchy but stronger than most of the preceding tracks. Things are rescued slightly by the sexy, rhythmic roll of -Shadow’s Keeper’ but -Evol’ is standard indie and the sludgy sounds and repetitive chorus of ‘Aya’ will burrow into your skull despite your best efforts to resist, making it the most surprisingly singalong song here. Even after multiple listens, downbeat tracks like ‘Sweet Feeling’ are non-descript and ‘The Toll’ is simply woeful, with the line ‘everything’s taking its toll’ sounding like an ironic justification for this album’s obvious flaws.
Beat The Devil’s Tattoo is an often muddled and inconsistent work and its defining characteristic is how irritating it is that they get so close and yet fall so short. Creating music that was alive and kicking with vitality, their compelling early output made BRMC the ones to watch and only time will tell if they can rekindle that rock ‘n roll edge. Loyal fans will undoubtedly continue to cry for recognition for their prodigal sons but this just isn’t the album to finally grant those wishes.