Black Rebel pick a fight with the US Government, generational apathy and pretty much anything else on their epic, powerful second album
Right now, there are a million bands out there paying lip service to the ideas of independence and freedom of expression, but you can count the number actually practising what they preach on the fingers of one hand. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, though, are definitely one of them.
One of the primary functions of rock’n’roll is to act as rebel or protest music. At a time when the methods and motives of governments on both sides of the Atlantic are coming under closer scrutiny than ever, that becomes an even more vital function.
The response from the UK’s musical community to recent world events has – bar Damon Albarn and Massive Attack‘s anti-war advertising – been muted, verging on the non-existent. Over in the States, however, it feels like something more anti-authoritarian is starting to emerge, and nothing underlines that more than this Black Rebel Motorcycle Club album.
‘Take Them On, On Your Own’ is a sensational record for many reasons. Not only is it an album that, in the words of the band themselves, tackles “death, guns, drugs, religion, family, politics, music and sex”, but it does so with a precise and relentless intensity that bulldozes the competition.
There might not be any overt sloganeering, but there’s enough here to provide a fearsome confirmation that music can still act as a radicalized form of protest. In a recent NME interview, guitarist/singer Peter Hayes commented that “the whole point of art is to question what’s going on”, and that’s what ‘Take Them On, On Your Own’ aspires to do – be it state corruption (‘US Government’), the traditional family unit (‘Rise Or Fall’) or generational apathy (‘Generation’).
Nor is this is a one-dimensional record about “issues”. There’s also a starkly personal thread running through the album. Two of the most emotionally resonant songs – ‘And I’m Aching’ and ‘Shade Of Blue’ (both of them sung by Hayes) – are ones with a far more obviously autobiographical slant.
Before you get down into the dirt of the lyrical content, though, the first thing that’s going to hit you about this record is its overwhelming jet-engine sound. A lot of records have already been heralded as this year’s landmark releases, but ‘Take Them On, On Your Own’ feels like the real front runner – and it’s going to take something truly incredible to dislodge it from that position before the end of the year.
Unlike their self-titled debut, their second album suffers from no occasional bouts of lethargy or lack of focus. Recorded in East London’s Fortress studio and fired by the band’s typically stringent DIY ethic (there was no outside engineer or producer), this record is a testament to what a tight grasp they have over their own vision.
It begins in suitably imperious fashion. The band have talked a lot in interviews about how they wanted to make a propulsive record with “no fat” and “faster tempos”. Well, first track (and first single) ‘Stop’ is just that. Relentlessly distorted and equipped with a pummelling chorus, it’s a thrilling introduction to a great record. The fact that it’s immediately bettered by the second track ‘Six Barrel Shotgun’ (this record’s ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock’N’Roll’ and a song with the greatest and most insistent riff the band have ever written) almost defies belief.
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From here, there’s no respite. With the exception of the slightly unformed ‘Ha Ha High Babe’, every song bears the hallmarks of what makes Black Rebel such an innovative group. The sonics are so full and so heavy that they make the Yeah Yeah Yeahs record sound like leaves being blown down a street. The songs themselves (particularly the swagger of ‘We’re All In Love’ and the breathtaking ‘In Like The Rose’) are cleverly arranged and accessible throughout.
The album ends with the seven minute epic ‘Heart And Soul’. An adrenalized assault of classic rock’n’roll powered by Nick Jago’s high tempo drumming, it’s the perfect finale. In a world where dissenting voices find themselves ever more marginalized, ‘Take Them On, On Your Own’ proves that it is possible to have something to say, while at the same time making a record that’s so exciting, different and brilliantly executed, it will suck the air from your lungs.
‘Take Them On, On Your Own’ is a masterpiece. You should get hold of it as soon as possible.