Sophomore albums are tricky enough to begin with. But in the case of San Francisco’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, things are even trickier. It’s been nearly two years since BRMC released its self-titled debut, and because of visa problems (drummer Nick Jago is originally from England), the band really hasn’t been able to tour much, at least in the States. Throw in limited radio play for the first album and major-label pressures and you’ve got a recipe for potential disaster.
Though impending disaster may surface in the stories told on the songs on BRMC’s sophomore effort, Take Them On, On Your Own, all bets are off, and then some. This is simply a fantastic album, delivered like a punch to the gut by what is undoubtedly one of the most important and innovative bands of the past five years.
Take Them On, On Your Own picks up where the group’s first album left off. "Stop" and "Six Barrel Shotgun" hit hard at the beginning, while "We’re All in Love" gives a rocking swing to the band’s trademark fuzzed-out guitars and slinky vocals. "In Like the Rose" and "Ha Ha High Babe" are two of the strongest tracks on the album, building in intensity to a slinky, sexy climax of looped, effects-laden guitars and swirling, hypnotic drums.
BRMC has successfully come up with a new sound in modern rock. While some have made the comparison to the drugged-out tones of the Dandy Warhols, there is none of the posturing that accompanies the Warhols’ art-snob approach to rock ‘n’ roll. Instead, BRMC combines a wall of sound with a steady one-two-three-four swing that could easily be responsible for increasing the population nine months from now. In a way, BRMC picks up where groups like the Stone Roses left off. "Take Them On, On Your Own," while it sounds nothing like the blues, makes you feel the blues. It makes you yank out your heart, examine the fucker, and slap it back in through your head.
The thing is, this album is everything I want rock ‘n’ roll to be. It’s dark, it’s deep, it’s sinister and it’s dangerous, but it doesn’t assault you with a seven-string bass and bone-crushing guitars. It’s catharsis in a 116-mm plastic circle. It’s literate and sophisticated, wittily droning in sensuous harmonies and who-gives-a-shit attitude. It’s the kind of music I imagine really hip French priests listen to while they’re banging out the next papal missive.
Though BRMC is the last band I’d expect to whip out an acoustic guitar, they do so — and pretty much pull it off — on the ballad "And I’m Aching." For BRMC freaks like me, who checked out the acoustic stuff on the band’s Web site, this song is further proof that there’s not much these young men consider sacred. Thank God for that.
Here’s to BRMC: proof that sophomore albums don’t have to suck.