Black Rebel Motorcycle Club happen to be a band that this author came across about seven years ago – and dismissed. I believe that’s about the time that these guys released their difficult third album, entitled Howl, which came out the year I finished high school. Given that this was the year when most of us who had any passing interest in music had fully figured out how to use torrent applications, there was suddenly a huge volume of new music coming at us at a rate that we’d never been able to even comprehend, let alone digest before, our ears started practicing a form of selectivity that far preceded the customised streaming platforms we have today. As it turns out, the media and fans really liked Howl, but I didn’t. I thought it was halfway towards other bands I already liked, or too weird for my tastes or something, and proceeded to ignore them every time they came across my line of vision across the next decade. Now through some sheer force of will or perhaps boredom with the music I already have, I somehow rejoined the motorcycle club again. This time it came on the personal recommendation of an editor I work for, and he pointed me towards an album of theirs that sounds more like their others, instructing me only to listen to it when pissed off or hungover. Conveniently, last Saturday morning I was both.
So this record is called Baby 81 and it totally rules. It’s a mixture of Kasabian, Oasis, Led Zeppelin and late-era Beatles, which is particularly interesting given that this is a trio from breezy San Francisco, rather than the UK. (For Australians, there’s also a lot of parallels here to Sydney band The Laurels.) What many of these newer bands have in common is an unbelievable level of self-belief, neatly matched with a careless disregard for doing something completely new if they can just make the old version sound better. The precise harmonic goalpost BRMC are going for seems to move with every record, but on Baby 81, they pretty much have it down. It’s a seriously kick-ass, drop-D, brightly roughened up style of rock and roll that’s more about trying to be enduring than trying to be fresh. It helps that in leaning back on this kind of stone-psychedelic sound, they happen to hit a nerve that had really started peaking in 2007 in Britain, their undeniable spiritual home. This record feels like a slightly less frenetic twin to Arctic Monkeys sophomore release, which came out in the same year.
‘Need Some Air’ is like every other low-slung guitar song you’ve ever heard in your life, but it’s also different. It plays on the familiarity that we have with this particular cultural trope; the chugging, gristly bar chords, the huge bass sounds, the monotone vocals, hell, the black jeans… and then ups the ante. The verses happen in two parts with uneasy ostinatos between them, and the second spin around reveals more layers of harmony, deeper investment of the six-stringed variety and a melody which now spikes and writhes rather than playing it cool and staying put. There’s a deceptive chorus that’s actually a bridge, and then the full-blown one that packs in all the studio time and money this band managed to get after their original drummer returned having walked out on them during the Howl era. Shout vocals and double-layered percussion sounds that come off more like the wings of a chopper than hi-hats transform this from a moody piece of music into a fight song worthy of buying a leather jacket or a being the soundtrack to some sort of video game. As it turns out, it ended up with the latter. Most of the YouTube comments on this song come from retired Nascar 08 players, who clearly remember the joy of smashing virtual vehicles into each other to the delicious viciousness of this track. Like you’d expect anything else from a band who cite a rebellious piece of automobile transport in their name.
Proof that your ears can still grow to love something you thought you would never like again.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – ‘Need Some Air’