Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Specter At The Feast (Album Review 2013)

The road to greatness has not been easy for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. After a promising eponymous début, the then line-up of Peter Hayes, Robert Levon Been and Nick Jago broke-up with their record label and each other (twice) and mourned the passing of Been's father Michael, the band's sound technician and mentor. Seven albums later, Hayes and Been, alongside Leah Shapiro (once of the The Raveonettes - on tour at least), B.R.M.C. are still going strong and making some of the best music of their lives. Previous album Beat The Devil's Tattoo is a glorious mix of swampy garage-rock, blues, folk and psychedelic pop; a welcome relief after the underwhelming Howl and the odd instrumental The Effects Of 333, either side of the straight no-nonsense rock 'n' roll of Baby 81. Three years on and Specter At The Feast follows on perfectly, in spite of a different mood and agenda.

Specter At The Feast opens in style with Fire Walker, part instrumental, part mournful ballad which builds to a vocal duel between Hayes and Been while guitars, keyboards and lazy drums quietly creep up to fill the space. An excellent, if surprising start. The Call cover Let The Day Begin brings in the familiar formula - like Kasabian doing Tomorrow Never Knows, smart and emotional in equal measures, before Returning slows things down. This is an open-hearted tribute, beginning with the line 'A part of you is ending; a part of you holds on..'. At its most sorrowful, the refrain 'But you must leave and not turn back, knowing what you hold; How much time have we got left? It's killing us, but carries us on' is the highlight, as the guitars soar. And the final words are simple and effective: 'You'll carry us on...carry us all'.

Lullaby is another highlight, a mid-tempo gloomy ballad centred around the words 'I'll walk until I've no shadow' set to folky guitars. B.R.M.C. prove that grungy rock is still in their hearts at the core of the album. Hate The Taste echoes their impetuous début sound, while Rival tries the same approach from the other direction - and a chance to cut loose. Of the trio, Teenage Disease is the most empty-headed and consequently the weakest. The comedown to all this is the moody blues of Some Kind Of Ghost, another glorious move back to the balanced feel, and neat comprise that now forms band's sound. And in contrast, Sometimes The Light finds an equilibrium between Spiritualized and the band they are often compared to (way too much) The Jesus And Mary Chain. This creates a wonderful interlude; a song of poise and control. Lyrically it's another soulful tribute: 'Sometimes the fallen is all we know; I leave your picture inside the room, for I'll remember all we could. Sometimes the light turns out too bright'.

Specter At The Feast's closing trilogy starts with the fuzzy guitars and echoing vocals of Funny Games. It's the album's weak point, sounding for the most part like something Supergrass might attempt, but with Gothic overtones. Thankfully Sell It is the highlight, and one for the best songs in the B.R.M.C. arsenal - a swirling delight of stomping drums, howling muddy guitars and a complex vocal arrangement. The angst starts from the opening line: 'I'm mad! Sell it on a T-shirt'. Closing song Lose Yourself is equally effecting, at just over seven minutes it builds from a slow vocal to a mass of Coldplay-esque guitars, before doing it all over again. The music soars to the end.

Tragedy inspires creativity and music is no exception. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have made an album that is both a fitting tribute but also a strong follow-up to their best work. The band has managed to find the perfect pitch between their rock roots and prosaic arrangements, anger, melancholia and sadness to make a rock record that is both emotive and uplifting.
-- CS