Friday, June 1, 2007

New Music Review: Baby 81 by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Baby 81
by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Released May 1, 2007 on RCA

Having only embraced quality new music within the past half-decade or so, I'm now enjoying the phenomenon of anticipating new releases with increasing frequency. One of my most anticipated in recent memory was BRMC's follow-up to 2006's Howl, a beautifully folk-rockin' disc featuring nary a throwaway and at least half-a-dozen jewels.

But, there are two sides to anticipation. There is that satisfaction of fulfillment, and there is the emptiness of disappointment. Alas, Baby 81 falls into the latter category.

It's not awful. But it's not great. It's not a stand-out record, that's for sure. It's a collection of (mostly) clunky rock tunes that are less distinguishable than a dozen SUVs in a row of parking spaces. The lyricism, which was one of Howl's strongest aspects, seems secondary to the gritty guitars and overwhelming drums. I still think BRMC boasts two of the best voices in rock, with Robert Levon Been and (my preference) Peter Hayes manning the mic stand. But Baby 81's lyrics are lazy and seem meaningless. In the forgettable opener "Took Out A Loan," Hayes growls "I think I thought I heard you love me, I think you thought you heard I loved." I think they thought none too hard about those lines...

The songs are generally reliant on a single repeated line, such as the strong single "Weapon of Choice," featuring the choral repeat of "I won't waste it". "Windows" is a song that would have been much stronger had it been given the Howl treatment. But rather than a minimal arrangement relying heavily on piano and nicely layered acoustic instruments, an annoying reverb-laden lead guitar flitters along throughout, adding a chaos the song could have done without. Been's vocals are actually pretty catchy, but the guitar overwhelms.

"Cold Wind" is pure mindless rock--which is at times what everyone needs, I suppose. Then comes the fairly syrupy "Not What You Wanted", which features some very elementary backtracked guitar, the kind of gimmicky garbage that makes you clamor for Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand," which is how it's supposed to be done.

"666 Conducer" is another forgettable heaving rock trudge, the kind of song that complements the frustration of being stuck in traffic on a sticky, sweltering day. On the other hand, "All You Do Is Talk" is a pretty song that should have started the record. The ethereal drone of the organs evoke a "Where The Streets Have No Name" vibe. It's an uplifting tune that's been written a hundred times over by as many bands, but its clearly a stand-out on the record.

But after that brief respite, its back to the mindless stuff with "Lien On Your Dreams." Nothing like some real-estate jargon to lend some extra weight to a rock track, am I right or am I right? "Need Some Air" is--wait for it--more masturbatory rock that's about as memorable as a throaty belch.

Skip ahead to "American X", which clocks in at a ridiculous 9:10. Now, my first musical love was Led Zeppelin, so I'm not averse to epics. But this is the kind of needless length that likely resulted from one of the band members saying "You know...we really need a 9 minute song." This is the bathroom-break song at the show, know what I mean?

After "American X" makes its final swirl down the toilet bowl, the album closer "Am I Only" begins promisingly, with the kind of quick acoustic strums that made Howl what it is. But apparently the guy from Five For Fighting ghostwrote the lyrics for the song, which is chock full of cliched rhymes and pop diarrhea:

"Nothing seems to show/The feelings come and go/And everything's so strange/The people never change."

These are the same guys who wrote "Devil's Waitin'"? What the fuck!?

Synopsis: All told, the album isn't quite as bad as I'm making it out to be. Sure, it's mostly comprised of gooey blobs of rock, but some inspired flotsam is bobbing within. It's the kind of disc that I'll spin every once in a while, after I've binged on the Flaming Lips or Radiohead or Beethoven. Or hell, even Howl. Only then will I turn to the mindless (there's that word again!) rockfoolery that is Baby 81. Well, maybe also when I'm stuck in a traffic jam.

Standout Tracks: All You Do Is Talk; Weapon of Choice

Good For: Lively yet noninvasive background music at a party.

Buy It: Used, if you have a few bucks to spare. Who knows, you might be able to trade it in for a few bucks off the next BRMC album.

Packaging: Quite good actually. A nice sleeve (the cover you see above is on the sleeve) over the case itself, which features a somewhat chaotic black and white collage. The liner notes feature a picture spread for each member but, conveniently, no lyrics.


*On a scale of 5 Stars


Anonymous said...

Okay, now I had to look this one up so don't feel bad: You can't be "adverse" to anything because the word is only used as a noun or adjective. You can, however, be "averse".

I correct you because I care, I promise. Anyway, good luck with this. I'll be watching it closely.

Drew said...


way to go. you bastard.

j-school for life!