Love and loss. These are two universal, undeniable themes in the cannon of pretty much any musician’s body of work. None more evident than over the course of six studio releases from the Los Angeles based trio, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Their latest, Specter At The Feast, is prefaced by the loss of lead singer Robert Levon Been’s father, Michael Been – frontman of cult 80’s college rock act, The Call to a heart attack in 2010. First single, ‘Let the Day Begin,’ is a nod to his father as it’s a cover of one of The Call’s more memorable tracks.
Robert has described this album as similar in may ways to the intimate feel of HOWL (2005) yet with more electric guitar. I’m finding this album to be less accessible than the past three and not exactly understanding the correlation.
Album opener ‘Fire Walker,’ is as smoldering as its title suggests. A slow builder that never builds so far that it moves beyond it’s boundaries. It’s followed by ‘Let the Day Begin,’ which – when re-imagined by BRMC is as close to U2 that they’ve ever come – which is quite a stretch comparing the two acts bodies of work and stylistic differences.
‘Returning,’ is easily the standout track on the album. Oddly, I feel its placement so early in the album is a little off-putting. One would expect this track perhaps in the mid to later half of the album. As it turns out, I feel Specter would’ve greatly appreciated that benefit as the back half is quite weak in comparison.
‘Lullaby,’ is a nice, quiet track that reminisces with some early Verve and carries a very British rock vibe – something the band has made a career out of.
The run of ‘Hate the Taste,’ ‘Rival,’ and ‘Teenage Disease,’ certainly fit in the pantheon of standard band rave-ups from the outfit. ‘Teenage Disease,’ being the hardest, fastest and best of the bunch.
‘Some Kind of Ghost,’ and ‘Sometimes the Light,’ follow and are equally forgettable. The latter reminding me heavily of the band Spiritualized. ‘Funny Games,’ starts off in middling ground before building to a fevered pitch.
It’s followed by another album stand out in ‘Sell It,’ which is anchored by the strength of the three-piece to build an incredible crescendo of sound and hold it. The glam-rock ballad ‘Lose Yourself,’ follows and calls to mind the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea for the band to close out the album here.
Instead they go on for another three tracks. ‘Warning Sign,’ is another forgettable piano-driven track. ”The Knife,’ is the closest comparison to HOWL that I can discern. An acoustic track that is every bit Dylan-esque (can you tell I’m not a fan?) as it is dreary and one-note.
Album closer ‘Angel Baby,’ is a strong mood track that is fitting of the back half. Perhaps the closer – perhaps close to it.
Sometimes loss is a great motivator. Other times, it becomes a force that allows you to insulate yourself in what you know. A lot of Spectre at the Feast feels like the a soul of a band stepping outside of itself and looking at what came before and trying to play to some of those strengths with mixed results. I would’ve cut about five tracks from the album and re-sequenced the tracks. For a band this far into their career – I’m a little disappointed they didn’t see where self-editing could have served to benefit the final piece of work.