It’s been a while since the moody muscle of Robert Levon Been, Peter Hayes and Leah Shapiro graced us. Since 2013’s Specter At The Feast, the band have endured a whirlwind of mishaps and misfortune, from Shapiro’s need for urgent surgery, through to trouble with producers and recordings, Wrong Creatures sits as the product of catharsis and retribution.
For those unacquainted, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club emerged from the ashes of former bands in the early 2000s, hitting the ground running with the thunderous and sluggish groove of their debut, B.R.M.C. Although they took off at the same time as The Strokes and The White Stripes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club were never painted with the same press-friendly brush, instead lingering around the shadows and skirting around the edges. Where the Californians differ though, is that they have always ploughed through the same leather-laden aisle, commenting on all the grit, rubble and struggle along the way, never losing sight of where they are and, more importantly, where they were.
The sound of the trio has always been anchored around the same basic principles: a solid, compounding rhythm section, reflective, and often forlorn vocals, all glued together with soaring guitars and bullish riffs. From the thunder of renowned single, ‘Spread Your Love’, through to the clusters of experimental psychedelia that litter Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, the band have a badge worn proud and more often than not, loud. Wrong Creatures finds the band revisiting and re-plastering this sentiment once more. They find the same reflective, Verve-sounding lucidity on ‘Echo’ that they did on 2013’s ‘Returning’ – glimmers of nostalgia, and the thought of lost love, whereas opener, ‘DFF’ summons cabalistic chanting and percussion as seen previously on the likes of ‘Half-State’ and ‘American X’.
It’s no real surprise that the band forge down to the same route this time around. It’s a method that has worked since their incarnation: dipping in and out of pools of atmospherics, borrowed in part from the likes of U2, whilst touching on Oasis’ rock’n’roll sensibilities and blending it with the sprawling US landscapes laid out by Springsteen. As seen with Eno’s work on U2’s The Joshua Tree, ambience bear the brunt on Wrong Creatures for BRMC with Nick Launay’s production chops outlining the glittering ‘Ninth Configuration’ and ‘Haunt’. Hayes’ gravelly vocals are often etched out of stone by a Been and Shapiro rhythm section, but Launay’s production paints a backdrop for the trio to work upon – star-filled and stratospheric in its nature.
Wrong Creatures hones in on the trio’s penchant for thick, leather-laden rock’n’roll at times though, with the likes of ’Spook’, ‘King Of Bones’ and ‘Little Thing Gone Wild’ formulating the vanguard for this. Driven guitars cut through layers of bass and Shapiro’s straight beat with the latter single holding its own alongside the finer cuts from the band’s hefty back catalogue.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club wrap yet more thread through their stripes on Wrong Creatures but it’s not without the album’s difficulties, ‘Carried From The Start’ ironically displays itself as doing just that; it doesn’t quite hold the meat and vigour that some of its counterparts do, falling through a slight Jesus & Mary Chain trapdoor. Similarly ‘Calling Them All Away’ feels slightly lacklustre, asides from the twee piano line that cuts through the middle segment, it feels slightly awash and fills time on the album rather than wearing much personality itself.
There’s something quite bombastic about Wrong Creatures though – it’s dressed in a similar darkness to much of BRMC’s previous material and it keeps the band as enigmatic and mysterious as they have always been, but there’s a new ethereal matureness that they have found here. From the gothic overtone that cuts through the architecture of ‘All Rise’ through to the boundless imagery displayed vividly in ‘Echo’, BRMC feel more at home than they have done for a while. The last couple of LPs have struggled to hit the highs of Baby 81 and the first three, trying to work out whether their sound sits in the rapid pace, or the unhurried way of life – Wrong Creatures exploits the latter and it fits. BRMC are back and baby, it’s nice to have an excuse to wear leather once more.