This album scared me before I even heard a track. Just the name of this San Fran-based band — the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club — and the title of their latest LP — Take Them On, On Your Own — are intimidating. Furthermore, the cover shot places the defiantly-posed silhouettes of B.R.M.C.’s Peter Hayes, Robert Turner, and Nick Jago in a backlit tunnel like the guardians of Hell.
My fingers are trembling as they feed the CD to my stereo like a massive cyanide pill, but to my surprise, we both survive the first track. The song, “Stop,” lives up to my dark expectations with a charging bass line and ragged guitar alongside dejected lyrics delivered insultingly. The next track, “Six Barrel Shotgun,” rips quick-looping guitar riffs before threatening to kick my ass. “We’re All In Love” and “In Like The Rose” offer cynical looks at the hopelessness of love while aggressively banging chords, symbols, and (I imagine) heads. A pattern seems to be developing, and most of the album continues likewise, vacillating between malice, suicidal self-pity and downright nastiness.
Typical of most of the album, the not-so-subtly titled “US Government” jams distorted guitars and charging drums that accompany the vocals’ vitriolic political commentary. “Generation” also waxes political as it rocks out a disconsolate disquisition of our contemporaries before dipping into a bizarre Beatlesesque noisefest. Unfortunately, the group’s tendency to live up to their label as psychedelic rockers proves problematic in the last track. After jamming about independence in the face of lonely desperation, “Heart and Soul” concludes the album by slowing into a strange tangent that makes the last 15 seconds seem like an eternity of feedback, rattling pipes and what sounds like a pissed-off modem.
In contrast, three songs that stand apart from the rest of the album are also arguably the best tracks on the disc. Although “And I’m Aching” is not as technically impressive as the racing guitar rips of “Six Barrel Shotgun” or “Rise or Fall,” it provides a nice alternative to mind-numbing malevolence as well as a glimpse into B.R.M.C.’s smooth acoustic talents. “Suddenly” delivers a similarly soft sound while staying electric. Haunting background vocals and some jagged riffs carry the overall dark feel of the album, but the song’s artistry ultimately supercedes its angry counterparts. “Shade of Blue,” close in sound and subject to “Suddenly,” floats a hollow bass line behind signature macabre melody that occasionally rears into an angry chorus of phenomenal misery.
As I struggle to endure the screaming feedback that concludes “Heart and Soul” and the album, I realize that I’m still afraid of B.R.M.C., but for different reasons. Instead of intimidating me with their tough name or bad-ass look, the band terrifies me by betraying the talent evident in songs like “Shade of Blue” even as they frequently mistake meaningless noise for music and vise versa.