Baby 81 Tries to Break the Mold

The cover of the new Black Rebel Motorcycle Club disc, Baby 81, fittingly features a gorgeous black guitar all rocked out to death with its neck demolished. Baby 81 roars and howls like a Harley Davidson revving its way along the sun-streaked parched desert road.

The very first strings on the opening track, “Took Out a Loan,” are raunchy and bawdy. They make you salivate; they hit you down there and leave you asking for more. The final minute is a dizzying spiral of shrieking and howling guitar wails.

A title like “666 Conducer” pretty much sums up the feel of the record. The track slowly chugs along, taking its time dragging its heavy boots, worn out by the muddy steel guitar and singer Peter Hayes’ dreary moan as it treks down that barren desert highway towards nothing in particular but its own demise.

Though the psychedelic blues of previous albums is mostly gone, the band continues their attempt to revitalize the classic rock cannon typified by the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin – songs like “Cold Wind,” “Weapon of Choice” and “Took Out a Loan” are scorched with contempt for the insatiable allure of the female sex – with a well-calculated modern commercial touch. BRMC were brazen enough to polish the disc with just enough spit shine to give it some buoyancy in the pop market.

The first single, “Weapon of Choice,” is a stomping acoustic brawl, down to the spiked cowboy heels in the beginning. Yet the chorus is premeditated arena rock designed to pump up the crowd. Hayes screams out “I won’t waste it / I won’t waste it / I won’t waste my love on a nation” and it’s uber catchy.

“Windows,” the song that follows is even more blatantly commercial – the rambling piano and Hayes’s wailing voice singing, “You want it, you need it, the words slip away / you’re crying your eyes out, your mind wants to break” sound like late Oasis.

Perhaps the biggest digression on the record is the inflated “All You Do is Talk.” Organ and all, the song is simply too clean – an attempt at something divine that falls short, perhaps weighed down by the band’s inherent salacious sound. Whatever the case, it sounds like a million other songs.

That’s the dichotomy of Baby 81; it’s divided in half, not letting it sound like a whole album, but rather two halves Scotch-taped together. The band struggles between choosing to be a rock band or pop-rock band. The result is songs like “Lien On Your Dreams” and “Need Some Air” – tracks that fall right in the middle between bold alternative rock and lighter pop tendencies; tracks that lack an identifying sound, lost in limbo somewhere. Where songs like “Not What You Wanted” and even “Windows” are respectful attempts at cracking into a larger audience, tipping the scale towards pop radio, others fall right in the middle of the scale; you don’t know what to make of them.

The only thing that keeps this album from falling apart is the closing track, “Am I Only.” Stripped bare to just Hayes and an acoustic accompaniment, the song tragically cries “Nothing seems to show / the feelings come and go / and everything’s so strange / the people never change,” until the shower of soldiering chords pour down and wash away the calamitous one-man army that is Hayes.

You can tell they still want to rock.
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