Marlon Brando led the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club gang through the blasted California landscape, crisscrossing the desert wasteland on bikes, leaving tire tracks like scars. The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club band has similarly torn up San Francisco, leaving a cloud of methane, dust and deafening feedback in its wake.
In 1995, Robert Turner and Peter Hayes came together through a predilection for early ’90s UK rock. They pursued separate careers, planning to come back together if their various projects didn’t pan out. That happened in 1998 when the duo picked up drummer Nick Jago and played gigs under the name the Elements. Finding that name to be as commonplace as a broken-down showgirl in Vegas, the band pilfered the coveted and feared epithet from The Wild One and began crafting its sound.
The culmination of the effort is B.R.M.C., the band’s first studio album. The most striking aspect of the album is that, for a band from California, it sounds, well, very British. While the band has taken some heat for it, I see no reason to criticize. The truth is, singing with a British accent, affectation or not, makes you sound like a badass. Nothing wrong with that.
Hayes’ and Turner’s ethereal voices sound as if they have been mercilessly thrown into the ocean; they sing as if to fight, to flail their limbs against the undertow. Their guitar work is impressive, wielding fuzz and static like a dominatrix wields whips. The album’s highlights include “The Rifles,” an Oasis-esque tune, preformed with a little Thorazine shuffle — the psychedelia toned down and the guitars hollowed and deconstructed. “White Palms” is an ominous letter to Jesus that reads like a head butt. Through the staccato guitar roar, a plaintive voice is heard crying, “Jesus won’t take me back/Jesus gonna steal my soul/Jesus gonna make me pay/Never should have run away.” And the cathartic roar of “Red Eyes and Tears” is evocative of Iggy Pop’s guitar-glistened rages.
Throughout B.R.M.C., guitars growl through feedback like a chainsaw spewing sparks and gasoline. However, while the lyrics are interesting and mournful, they arrive nowhere near the efforts of their predecessors. They just whine when compared to Patti Smith’s Rimbaudian moans or the Jesus and Mary Chain’s infective sobs. Hayes’ and Turners’ harmonies are blissful, a little too blissful, intertwining voices that are constantly in danger of nodding off at the wheel. The songs are catchy, but not as addictive as the bubble-gum, black-tar heroin, playfully propagandic pop ballads of today. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
B.R.M.C performs May 9 at Gold Dollar, 3129 Cass in Detroit. Call 313-833-6873.
E-mail Joshua Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.