Black Rebel Motorcycle Club–Specter at the Feast

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When I heard BRMC was coming out with a new CD, I was hopeful because they have had a few songs which I like very much, such as “American X,” “Spread Your Love,” and “Window.”  There’s an aggressiveness to their music, sometimes restrained, sometimes set free.  But I’ve still found their albums inconsistent.

Specter at the Feast does not deliver as I had hoped.  To learn that the lead singer/writer’s father had died necessarily casts a pall over the affair, but one never knows how anyone, much less an artist, might interpret the experience in their work.  On the positive side, this CD is not a maudlin affair, despite the anger, sadness, and questions within the lyrics.  As it turns out, those are the elements that bring out the best in this CD.

First, I’m thankful for the included booklet with lyrics.  As it is with many artists, I can listen to the music with the vocals as a just a musical instrument rather than actually listening to what they’re saying.  This is especially true when simple rhyming couplets are not used.  It’s also true where the lyrics are sometimes difficult to distinguish among the music.  It takes some guesswork.

And they help here, even if the pounding low end bass and wails of electric guitar are not too difficult.  A narrative approach to lyrics is used by this band, and here, they are sometimes focused, sometimes frustratingly obtuse.  But it brings to the fore the continued importance, in my view, of purchasing a physical product that includes lyrics.  I don’t know how digital downloaders make much sense of it.  The included art is a bonus, but it counts for presentation.

Musically, the band gets the most out of a rock trio.  The CD begins with “Fire Walker,” a very pleasing slow building rocker.  This is followed up by a more straight ahead rocker, “Let the Day Begin” before slowing to a more introspective song that is somewhat derivative of U2/Coldplay.  “Lullaby” is a good song, where the search for answers is paired with a fitting piano melody rising above a sustained slide guitar.  As the title would suggest, it’s not a rock song, but it’s not a tedious affair either.

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This is followed by “Hate the Taste,” a straightforward rocker that sounds great until a very irritating lyrical and musical refrain of “I want to ride with you” that ruins what is otherwise a very fine song.  That little bit, with a little more inspiration, might have made this one of my favorites.  Otherwise, from the pounding bass to the guitar work, it sizzles. 

Similarly, “Rival” might have been a pleasing rocker, except the whole context of needing a rival is a dead-end in context of the song, and it suffers from a poor musical hook.   It’s as if the more delicate songs wore the band out, and they didn’t try real hard after finding a musical groove. 

“Teenage Disease” is classic rock album filler, a solid song that is unremarkable on its own but enjoyed in context of the whole.  On the other hand, it’s probably favored by those who just want to bang heads and break things...

... which is followed by the quirkiest song on the CD, and possibly my favorite.  “Some Kind of Ghost” has the requisite backing organ, but just as “Teenage Disease” is lyrically and musically paired for aggression, this song is a pondering, subtle search for meaning and destiny, placed in a haunting, mildly bluesy setting.

“Sometimes the Light,” then, is a surprise because it’s the furthest from the rock expectations.  Its sequence is a bit out of place, as it might have been a more suitable coda to the disc.  It’s a slow song with a gentle keyboard background, with soft vocals treated with a prayerful, choral effect.  It’s beautiful, but unexpected.

“Funny Games” is another filler song, enjoyable enough.  “Sell It” reverts to the bands tendencies to go with what has been there musical strengths, a super low, driving bass and aggressive guitar lines.  Similar to “Hate the Taste,” they establish quite a groove before ruining it with an unimaginative and detracting refrain.

The finale, “Lose Yourself,” is a beautiful song, if echoing U2 a little bit too closely, but the lyrics are conflicted.  They don’t follow a path of clarity, towards loss, hope, or any particular meaning.  “Why don’t you lose yourself, at all?” Huh?

I guess that confusion can be what follows loss, and after many listens, I’ve found that had they approached all of the songs on this release with the intelligence given towards a good half of them, it may have succeeded more.  In other words, had they not either felt the obligation to throw in fairly mindless rockers to meet the expectations of people like me, they might have created something special.  Rock and roll posturing is fine, but it’s best when the lyrics carry some import.

Recommended Songs: “Fire Walker,” “Lullaby,” “Some Kind of Ghost”

3 of 5 STARS

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