CD Review of Baby 81 by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

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Baby 81
starstarstarstarno star Label: RCA Records
Released: 2007
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Thank God we’ve been able to set our watches by the perfectly intermittent two-year periods between Black Rebel Motorcycle Club albums, since the inexplicably obscure San Francisco trio arrives with Baby 81 just in time to save American rock and roll. Again. In 2001, BRMC (named after the gang in Marlon Brando’s cult film “The Wild One”) broke with their post-modern Brit-sounding debut, all fuzzed up and rich with Primal Scream, Oasis, and Jesus & Mary Chain borrowings. 2003’s Take Them On, On Your Own remained in that psychedelic swirl and even played on the “rebel” in their name, with political protests like “Stop” and “(Kill the) US Government.” When Howl dropped in 2005, however, everyone thought the Club had gone soft with a bunch of stripped-down folk-tinged mantras that whispered more than screamed.

Suffice to say that whether the band regretted the Howl release or not, Baby 81 runs right back to the anxious and inspired guitar-driven vein of the first two records. What’s surprising is that these 13 new songs were created in the weeks immediately following Howl. I guess the gassed-up electric nature of romps “Berlin” and “Lien on Your Dreams” had no place on their kinder, gentler predecessor. Certainly the first single, “Weapon of Choice,” a slow-building sonic detonation, would have seemed largely out of place two years ago, but it’s a gem all the same. Riff rockers will rejoice on “Took Out a Loan,” a muscled-up ode to Iggy and the Stooges in the album’s opening slot. Having written, produced and performed every song on Baby 81, BRMC again displays the awesome power of state-of-the-art recording studios these days, stacking seemingly dozens of guitar layers to maximize the potential of three guys.

Somehow the electric garage-style guitars burn above an acoustic undercurrent. It’s as if they write simple borderline-folk songs before firing up the amps and becoming a full-on assaulting bar band. “All You Do is Talk” is a perfect example, not to mention a really cool mid-tempo, almost symphonic, fuzz-rock anthem. Peter Hayes notes, “I like the idea of hiding a lot of acoustic guitars behind the electrics.” The second half of Baby 81 does find BRMC pulling in their horns a bit, though slower doesn’t necessarily mean quieter, as is the case with the feedback-soaked drones of “Killing the Light.”

The band’s obscurity, nearly ten years in the making, remains an unsolved mystery. It’s beyond me how a song as instantly pleasing as “Not What You Wanted” (even if they should send Jesus & Mary Chain a royalty check on principle alone) does not get gobbled up by radio. Still, one of the most promising young American bands today plods along its quiet path, touring incessantly and spitting out accomplished albums – four now – of fantastically original music. Oh, well. 2009 will be here before we know it.

~Red Rocker