On Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's new album, Howl, the first elements of sound to come through the speakers sound more like a hidden track on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack than the first single from Ride's seminal 1990 album, Nowhere. "Time won't save our souls / time won't save our souls / time won't save our souls... no", sing the members of B.R.M.C. like true students of America's unique and rich musical history. Sung like a negro spiritual, the first three lines of Howl's opening track, "Shuffle Your Feet," will undoubtedly surprise fans of the band's first two efforts. Both 2000's B.R.M.C. and 2003's Take Them On, On Your Own, found Black Rebel Motorcycle Club combining the members' collective love of early '90s UK bands like Ride, The Stone Roses and The Jesus & Mary Chain, into a sound that did its best to blend all three. The singles "What Ever Happened To My Rock & Roll" and "Love Burns" had critics singing the band's praises and helped to develop a solid fan-base of Anglophiles and hipsters alike. But "Shuffle Your Feet," no... this is like nothing we have ever heard from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It's this same shocking reinvention of themselves that threw Virgin Records for a loop and eventually led to the band's split with the label. Sticking to their guns, B.R.M.C. believed in the album they had made and decided to take their chances on the open market. A smart move indeed. With Howl, B.R.M.C. have shown they're a band that's willing to take risks in order to stay true to their art form, a rare quality among major label acts these days.
The album plays like an homage to the earliest beginnings of American popular music, blending hillbilly, folk and blues into something both undeniably timeless and uniquely innovative. The majority of the songs rely heavily upon acoustic instrumentation, with guitar and harmonica playing a stand out role in most tracks. Slow, acoustic, spiritual ballads like "Devil's Waitin'", "Fault Line", "Gospel Song" and "Restless Sinner", wrap the listener in an emotional, brooding musical shroud and detailed narrative landscape and portray men wishing to make their peace with themselves, and a higher power, for the wrongs they've done. "Complicated Situation" is a Dylan-esque, harmonica-rich folk song while the first single, "Ain't No Easy Way" is a honkey tonkin', juke joint-ready, toe-tapping, slide-guitar filled kick in the pants that just plain and simple, rocks! While Howl might alienate some of the Anglophiles that make up B.R.M.C.'s fan base, it is an album filled with passion, love, heartbreak, loss, God and the devil, and a testimate to the amazing things that can happen when a band stays true to their musical vision.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club