After 20 years and seven albums, blues-based psych rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have become a brand of sorts. It’s a brand that’s synonymous with everything that their name implies: souped-up machines, dimly lit dive bars and lots and lots of leather. Is it the band’s fault that in the last five years, theirs is the kind of music that’s now being used to sell those very things? No. Does hearing inch-thick fuzz guitar, a sparse kick-drum beat and a generically edgy male voice in the background of every truck, beer and denim commercial take away from their new album, Wrong Creatures. Unfortunately, yes.
Don’t get me wrong, here. BRMC are veritable heroes of the garage rock scene. What they do, they do better than anyone (except maybe Jack White)—and they know it, releasing “Little Thing Gone Wild” and “King Of Bones” as singles. The first, with its familiar stomping beat and freaky, voodoo blues vibe, gets you goin’ while feeling rote, like when you’re you’ve watched six episodes of the same HBO show in a row, and while you’re kind of sick of the theme song, you can’t quite bear to skip it. The second is darker, a little more futuristic, with wickedly distorted guitars that sound almost electronic. It gets the job done, but doesn’t stick as well. “It’s just another song/and then it’s gone” Peter Hayes sings, on “Spook”—another formulaic half-success—echoing the way I feel about half of this album.
When they step outside themselves, stretching out on “Ninth Configuration” and “Calling Them All Away,” nothing much happens either. The latter has a promising exotic, far-east flair, floating in on a cloud of hashish smoke. But after seven minutes of chant-like vocals and the same drone, that fragrant cloud starts to become too much. “Ninth Configuration” fares better, Hayes sun-streaked guitar work builds steadily, until it’s an orchestra unto itself. And Leah Shapiro’s expertise behind the kit impressively keeps the trippy psych on track. The musicianship clearly isn’t the problem. There’s just nothing that grabs you like “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo” or “Whatever Happened To My Rock ’N’ Roll (Punk Song)” did. Whether that’s due to an unfortunate commercial saturation or because BRMC may have lost a step or two, I’ll leave up to you.
Where they succeed most on Wrong Creatures is when they utilize their darkly unique take on romance. “Take yourself apart for me,” Hayes sings on “Haunt,” his spooky, sexy vocals taking a cue from the master, Nick Cave. But it’s “Echo,” with its “Walk On The Wild Side” bass line and shuffle beat that might be the best cut of the album. A beating heart finally detectable in Hayes’ vocals, it’s expansive, nuanced and unexpected.
Fans of BRMC, fans of bluesy psych rock and fans of anyone that’s still out there trying to do it with a guitar will love Wrong Creatures. For fans of rock music that jolts you awake and holds you by the throat, It’s just not gonna rock you like it used to.