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Black in the Red: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Take Them On, On Your Own

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(Originally posted at Attentiondeficitdisorderly Too Flat by Sean T. Collins.)

I’ve been a big booster of the band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club ever since they were personally recommended to me by the Dandy Warhols. (Hey, when a man named Courtney Taylor-Taylor tells you something, you listen.) And I love, love, love their first record, B.R.M.C.. It’s swirly, it’s dark, it’s loud, it’s ambitious, it’s progressive, it’s classic, it’s generally a big fat rejoinder to the critics who inexplicably tagged the band as a Jesus & Mary Chain knockoff. (I guess they look a little like J&MC used to, but I really have never been able to figure out the prevalence of this meme.) So I was pretty damn psyched to pick up their second record, Take Them On, On Your Own. Sounds angry! Sounds brash!

Sounds boring.

Okay, that was harsh. To be fair, about half of TTOOYO is a good record, and without the existence of the band’s first album, the whole thing might be considered pretty swell. But alas, they already recorded songs like “Whatever Happened To My Rock and Roll?” on the first record, so filling half of this one with uninspired retreads of that song’s thunderous school-of-rock marching-band-isms and endless feedbacky coda is just an exercise in water-treading. And in song after song–“Stop” (which at least has an interesting six-word chorus), “Six-Barrel Shotgun” (might as well be a “Whatever Happened…?” remix), “We’re All In Love,” “Generation” (this one riffs on the first album’s “White Palms” instead–ooh, innovative), “Suddenly” (in 3/4 time, but otherwise same deal)–that’s exactly what they do.

This is not to say that the Club tries nothing new. On “In Like the Rose,” the band tries to do the Dandy Warhol’s drone-y groove thing, but unfortunately all they manage to do is plod; “Ha Ha High Babe” fares much better in its similar vein. “Shade of Blue” seems like more of the same until a simple, sunny guitar line jangles in from out of nowhere mid-song, lifting the whole thing up out of the doldrums. “And I’m Aching” is acoustic, which is pretty, but makes the limitations of lead vocalist Robert Turner’s vocals all the clearer (and they were pretty clear to begin with, on this album). But the record closes with a one-two punch that rivals some of the combos on its predecessor: “Rise or Fall,” a New Wave-y banger that, you want to yell infomercial-style, really works!, and “Heart + Soul,” which sounds like nothing so much as Pink Floyd covering the MC5, which believe me is a good thing to sound like indeed.

So yeah, there’s half a good album on there. It’s only disappointing when you consider their first album–the searing regret of “Love Burns,” the sneering rage of “Red Eyes and Tears,” the swirling psychedelia of “Awake,” the rumbling angst of “White Palms,” the rockin’ “Jean Genie”-isms of “Spread Your Love,” the swelling religiosity of “Alive.” At least 50% of what you have on Take Them On is merely competent, a sort of balls-to-the-wall-by-the-numbers routine. I guess we are on our own, after all.

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