Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Album Review: American X: Baby 81 Sessions

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
American X: Baby 81 Sessions
RCA Records 2007

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club continues a tradition begun with 2005’s HOWL and the accompanying HOWL Sessions EP by releasing a collection of songs recorded during the sessions for last year’s Baby 81 release. While this release will not earn BRMC new fans, it does provide longtime fans an exciting glimpse into the experimental musical shades BRMC attempts in the studio as well as compile non-album tracks into one release for the collectors.

Quietly released in early December of 2007 to independent record stores and online, American X: Baby 81 Sessions features several tracks originally available as b-sides to European singles as well as an extended video for the Baby 81 song “American X”.

Opening track “The Likes of You” is a slice of patented BRMC rock: pounding drums, a narcotic buzz saw bass line and blasts of ambient guitar squalls with a series of lyrics hypnotically repeated. A rocking start, but the song is reminiscent of “Ha Ha High Babe” off 2002’s Take Them On, On Your Own, and a reminder why these songs most likely didn’t make the final cut of Baby 81.

The semi-ballad “Vision” follows another BRMC formula: A hushed, quiet beginning punctuated by angular guitar chords and bassist Robert Levon Been crooning above it all before the chorus rips the song open to waves of percussion and wah-infused guitar. Good, but not their best.

Those who caught BRMC on tour recently with label mates Kings of Leon will recognize “The Shows About to Begin” as a staple of their live set and the studio version is a monster drone rocker that will rattle the fillings in your teeth and have you dreaming about smoke machines and a rack of red stage lights to take you back to the show.

“MK Ultra” is actually a slightly reworked version of the song “US Government” off Take Them On, On Your Own. Named after for a CIA mind-control research from the 1950s, “MK Ultra” strips the distortion and volume off the original version and adds some new lyrics but ultimately doesn’t compare to the original’s burning intensity.

It does however, make a nice segue for the half sung, half spoken psychedelic “Whenever You’re Ready” which resembles a bass line, guitar riff and drums stitched together during some late night studio experiments.

“20 Hours” is a cinematic Brit Pop-style slow burner that begins with desolate guitar shimmering in reverb before the rhythm section kicks the tempo up a notch to introduce Been’s ethereal vocals. “20 Hours” is worthy of inclusion on Baby 81, and along with “The Shows About to Begin”, make this EP worth a fan’s time but not much more.

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