Emerges from the swampland armed with an acoustic, and desire in its belly.
Reef Younis 2010-03-04
Somewhere between the blues and gospel spectres of the Deep South, and the political intensity that, for the most part, has characterised Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to date, Beat the Devil’s Tattoo emerges from the swampland armed with an acoustic, and desire in its belly.
After the middling, mixed reception of previous releases, Baby 81 and The Effects of 333, there’s a palpable, renewed force here, ignited by the firebrand passion that made their early output so
excitingly vital. They aren’t just saying it; they’re spitting and stomping it out, conveying the visceral sense that they’d do the same if it was on their front porch or the steps of Congress.
Returning to the same Philadelphia studio that spawned 2005’s Howl, it's not unsurprising to find that Beat the Devil's Tattoo isn't too far removed from the stripped, temperate blues of their third album. And perhaps driven by the sting of their more recent indiscretions and label wrangling, it's an album that largely triumphs with a black snake moan and the revitalised, tempestuous twin snarl of Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been.
With its opening title-track, Beat the Devil's Tattoo sets an immediate, engaging marker, yet War Machine soon stands up as the album lynchpin. Steered by white noise and cynicism, it's a proud barrage of rapier percussion and wailing guitar dynamics that lurches in all the right ways.
It's also the excessively cool, monochrome reminder that BRMC – once upon a time – were more concerned with smothering guitar psychedelics than pedestrian, harmonica-led meanders. The turgid piano and ambling pace of The Toll, and Long Way Down, are the sacrificial lambs this time.
But nestled beside these slighter offerings is the slow burn of Evol and the gloriously mordant Shadow's Keeper. When pitted against BRMC's finer moments of eyes-closed indulgence – like the pastoral Sweet Feeling – it’s clear that the album’s conflict makes for an increasingly frustrating listen.
A realm away from the much-maligned direction of Baby 81, Beat the Devil's Tattoo undoubtedly has its highlights. But where BRMC might have given us clarity, we’ve got contrasts instead.