A very different BRMC album - cohesive and radio friendly but maybe not as compelling?
Wrong Creatures, released on 12 January, is Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s seventh ‘proper’ studio album (there was also an independently released, download only instrumental album), and is the follow-up to 2013’s Specter at the Feast.
The album’s 12 tracks feature BRMC’s usual heavily-layered, dense, (often dark) psychedelic rock approach, leading the UK-based music magazine NME to praise the way in which: “The whole album is driven by that Nick Cave sense of foreboding menace.”
UK Broadsheet newspaper The Independent described Wrong Creatures as “their most accomplished clawing-back so far of the basic dark rock’n’roll street-smarts that were lost as they cast fruitlessly around for new directions with projects like the acoustic album Howl…”
Paste emphasized continuity, saying that: “BRMC are veritable heroes of the garage rock scene. What they do, they do better than anyone (except maybe Jack White)—and they know it, releasing ‘Little Thing Gone Wild’ and ‘King Of Bones’ as singles.”
But it would be a mistake to compare the new album too closely to any of its predecessors, since it has its own distinctive identity – perhaps due to the involvement of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds producer Nick Launay.
The Irish Times uncharitably judged the album to be “as predictable as a Status Quo set list,” and charged that “Wrong Creatures is no journey to an undiscovered territory but rather just another pit-stop across blankly familiar terrain.”
While there has been no seismic shift in musical direction or approach, Wrong Creatures is actually a very different BRMC album – hanging together more cohesively than any previous effort, and occasionally veering closer to a radio-friendly mainstream pop sound than the band has ever ventured previously.
This was perhaps what led the NME to judge that: “But while there’s plenty of that classic BRMC ‘tude, and a vintage touch, they’re still full of ideas.”
At the same time, this is still ‘classic BRMC’, and does not mark the kind of departure of the rootsy, acousticky Americana-ish Howl album did.
There are still some complex, clever, and sometimes soaring basslines to be found from Been, and Hayes’ guitar work has never sounded better, while Leah Shapiro’s deceptively simple percussion sounds equally good, and just as familiar. Reviews use the same terms as they always did for BRMC albums – dark, swampy, fuzzed out, distorted, psychedelic, layered, shoegaze and scuzzy. Reviewers still make plentiful reference to leather jackets and sunglasses.
Superficially, at least, little is completely new, and nothing has really changed in a big way. We’ve heard BRMC’s bassline-as-melody trick before, and even the glistening, shimmering, uplifting, soaring guitar on ‘Ninth Configuration’ is in some respects merely a continuation of that heard on ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Returning’ on the last album. Nor are BRMC strangers to anthemic tunes – though they have perhaps never veered as close to U2 or Coldplay as they have done with ‘Echo’ and ‘Ninth Configuration’.
What’s missing are the really compelling foot-stomping rockers that BRMC usually deliver. ‘Little Thing Gone Wild’ apart, there are few flat-out adrenaline rushes on ‘Wrong Creatures’ – there’s no ‘Punk Song’, ‘Conscience Killer’, ‘Teenage Disease’, ‘Rise or Fall’, ‘Heart and Soul’ or ‘Six Barrel Shotgun’ here. Nor are there any of those songs that BRMC do so well, the songs that mix an infectiously memorable tune with a foot-tapping beat – so there’s no ‘Love Burns’, no ‘Spread Your Love’, no ‘White Palms’, no ‘Stop’ or ‘In Like the Rose’, no ‘Berlin’, no ‘Weapon of Choice’, and no ‘Ain’t No Easy Way’ either.
Paste said it better than I can: “The musicianship clearly isn’t the problem. There’s just nothing that grabs you like “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo” or “Whatever Happened To My Rock ’N’ Roll (Punk Song)” did. Fans of BRMC, fans of bluesy psych rock and fans of anyone that’s still out there trying to do it with a guitar will love Wrong Creatures. For fans of rock music that jolts you awake and holds you by the throat, It’s just not gonna rock you like it used to.”
There would not be anything wrong with a BRMC album full of great-but-chilled, slower-tempo tunes like ‘Generation’, ‘American X’, ‘Lose Yourself’, ‘Bad Blood’ and ‘Killing the Light’ – but I’m not sure that Wrong Creatures delivers even that. Consistency, after all, is not the same as greatness.
In an interview with a French fansite, Been explained the reason for the absence of the song ‘Bandung Hum’ (a fan-favourite feature of many recent gigs) on the new album.
“We recorded it and we ended up recording too many songs, Peter thought. And we started throwing them overboard in the last minute and rather than throwing over the ones we liked the least, we felt it would be more interesting to put aside some of the strongest ones. They’re all similar to Bandung Hum they’re like with super adrenaline, skull crushing, you know, full rock’n’roll…”
Perhaps ditching some of the weaker material on Wrong Creatures instead of abandoning some of the ‘strongest songs’ would have produced a stronger overall album?
I’ll let the professional reviewers have the last word.
The Financial Times opined that: “Wrong Creatures proves (that) the old formula still works.”