After venturing into the world of acoustic blues, Black Rebel Motorcycle club is back to their electric sound with their latest album Baby 81. Unlike many of the other bands from the garage rock movement like the Strokes and Franz Ferdinand, BRMC has been able to develop, evolve and mature—to an extent. Their past albums have all had a twist of the basic garage sound, but never venture to far from the sound they established on their self titled debut. Howl, the critically acclaimed departure, brought in a taste of the blues and folk that refreshed the band’s sound. Now, on Baby 81, we see a band fully formed and matured and ready to make an impact on rock music once again.
First things first, you may be wondering what Baby 81 as a title itself may mean. This may trump the Yo La Tengo album title from last year in stupid album titles. Apparently, “Baby 81” is the name given to one of the Tsunami victims from 2004. What this has to do with the album is beyond me, but look past the strange title and give it a listen.
The album kicks off with the grungy track “Took Out a Loan.” The track sounds straight out of 1991 with heavy guitars, a pounding beat and an amazing outro noise jam. The first single “Weapon of Choice” starts off sounding like an outtake from the Howl sessions with acoustic guitars and tambourine, but quickly transforms into a melding of loud guitars and fuzzy vocals. The second single, “Berlin” has a jumpy drum beat that makes it a summertime rock track worthy of blasting while jetting down to the highway.
The album follows this sound for the most part, which many may find tedious or repetitious. However, the few divergent tracks are a good break-up of the pacing of this album. Songs like “Windows” starts off with a piano intro and then piles on the fuzz of guitars and scratchy vocals. “All You Do Is Talk” has a more ambient feel for the album with an ethereal hum over the vocals. The sound of drums and guitars comes in halfway through the track and builds upon the atmosphere created.
The lyrics are laden with references to youth rebellion, love lost and rock and roll mysticism. With lyrics like “Turn your eyes from the window so you won’t see this world/The walls are closing inward, there’s nowhere left to turn” shows the band’s overall feeling of angst, fear and trying to forget what really goes on around the world. This is not what rock and roll used to drive home. Before it was songs like Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers” or MC5’s “Kick out the Jams” which were anthems of activism. The disillusion of the American rocker is now pretty evident in the lyrics throughout the whole of Baby 81.
Overall, the band doesn’t do a whole lot to make each track standout. The soundscapes created flow together nicely in a sea of fuzz that only calm down for a moment or two before the songs flare back into a hazy controlled chaos of guitars, drums and vocals. As a rock and roll record, Baby 81 works well. As a thoroughly ground breaking, mind expanding or new venture in rock and roll music, it falls a bit flat. That being said, rock bands don’t need to be blowing minds each outing. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club writes decent rock songs that are worthy of a listen, but not mandatory in the grand scheme of rock records.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Key Tracks: “Took Out a Loan”, “Weapon of Choice”, “Windows”, “666 Conducer”
Worth the Money: Fans will like it and rockers will like it. Give it a whirl if you want.