Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Beat The Devil's Tattoo
Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, the sixth album from L.A. rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is really good. The songs do everything you would expect, the classic blues-tinged psychedelic garage band rock that B.R.M.C. are known for. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this new offering really doesn’t give us anything we haven’t already heard before and may leave you feeling “is that it?”.
The album begins with huge promise as the serpentine strains of the title track glide in with a Leadbelly-esque guitar intro and Robert Levon Been's delicious snarl: “You have forsaken all the love you’ve taken / sleeping on a razor, there’s nowhere left to fall.” The song slithers gently along until the cobra-head snap of electric guitars and drums as the rest of the band join in. This is vintage B.R.M.C. that harkens back to their brilliant third album, the much underrated Howl (2005).
‘Conscience Killer’ continues the winning streak with a similar punch and drive as ‘Berlin’ from the excellent Baby 81 (2007) - the last album with original drummer Nick Jago. New recruit Leah Shapiro keeps the pace with her powerful drumming which perfectly suits the song’s energy. ‘Bad Blood’ is another winner, the big guitar sound coupled with Been’s distinctive vocals make it a strong contender for second single.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the tracks fail to match up to the album’s early promise. Jago’s metronome-like drumming, which kept the band’s occasional musical flights of fancy in check, is sorely absent here. As excellent as Shapiro’s work is, she lacks the precision and force the band so desperately need. The album also lacks the handful of stand out tracks that always peppered the band’s earlier releases. Aside from ‘Beat The Devil’s Tattoo’ there isn’t much else that really jumps out at you.
The murky ‘War Machine’ is dragged down by the weight of all the distortion and never really takes off. The lovely ‘Sweet Feeling’, with Been’s gorgeous voice hitting those high notes, will make you swoon but still never matches up to Howl’s ‘Devil’s Waitin’ or ‘Fault Line’. ‘Evol’ drags its feet never really goes anywhere while ‘Mama Taught Me Better’ and the blues-flavoured ‘River Styx’ pick up the slack, Shapiro’s steady drumming in fine form here.
‘The Toll’ with the addition of a female vocal is another beautiful ballad, and ‘Aya’ is a strong number with Been’s cool vocals and Hayes’ distorted guitar giving the song an edgy menace lacking in some of the other tracks. ‘Shadow’s Keeper’ sounds a bit too much like ‘Bad Blood' and doesn’t add anything new while ‘Long Way Down’ and the ten minute ‘Half-State’ are fairly anti-climatic and end the album with a fizzle rather than a bang.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is a first-rate live band and no doubt these songs with be given added vim and vigour when performed live. From any other ho-hum band this would have been a top-notch release, yet we know from past example that they are capable of much much more than this. But don’t be disheartened Black Rebel fans, Beat The Devil’s Tattoo is still a very good album. It’s just not an excellent one.