Album Reviews

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Specter At The Feast

on March 20, 2013, 12:03am
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Specter At the Feast could have been a complete downer, and part of me wishes it was. For it’s the weepers here that resonate. This makes total sense, given Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s 2010 loss of Michael Been, the former frontman of The Call who also produced, mentored, and sound engineered the band. More importantly, he was Robert Levon Been’s father.

Always more introspective than BRMC second banana and faux hell-raiser Peter Hayes, Been sounds particularly lost here — and that’s a compliment. It’s not that his lyrics are gut-wrenching. It’s not that they’re specific. But there’s a pleading grief to them that can’t be faked. In closer “Lose Yourself”, he wanders through a cave of reverb held together by the bottom-heavy trudge of Leah Shapiro’s drumming. During the chorus, he claws at the stratosphere for a falsetto he never grasps. “Why won’t you lose yourself?” he asks with vulnerability. He might not be talking about his father’s death, or even his father at all. But there’s no doubt that the void informed his performance. The only time he sounds truly joyous on the album is when summoning the spirit of the elder Been on “Let the Day Begin”, a cover of The Call that transcends the original with its fuzz bass, fuller guitar workout, and absence of tinny synths.

Hayes, on the other hand, sticks to bullshit posturing, as if trying to recreate the boot-scraping swagger that trashed the garage when BRMC was released over a decade ago. “I’m a common cold / You want it? / Come and get it,” he taunts on “Teenage Disease”, a song that’s about as threatening as its title. Most of his tracks’ names are just as telling. “Rival”. “Sell It”. “Hate the Taste”. We get it. Each one sees Hayes reaching into the back of his throat for his yowliest of yowls while the bass muds it up and the guitars rip, roar, and ape The Jesus and Mary Chain. Call these cuts dark. Call them rockers. But they’re neither of these things when stacked against something much more simple and hard-hitting: sincerity.

Essential Tracks: “Lose Yourself”

7 comments

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Chris Virnig
April 23, 2013 at 12:55 am

I’d argue, quite sincerely, that Been and Hayes present the most substantive duo in all of rock. What’s interesting is that on many tracks, the two sing in harmony ala Lennon and McCartney while at other times, they present vastly divergent styles. Been is the one who channels the Jesus and Mary Chain fuzz whereas Hayes personifies the snarl and gruffness of Johnny Cash. When compared to industry darling bands like Kings of Leon, The Killers, The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines, etc. BRMC possesses a sound that is arguably less derivative and more artistically sincere. And they’ve done it because they’re the hardest working band in the industry. In a 13 year career, the band has already played more shows than Pearl Jam, who’s been around twice as long. Certainly BRMC hasn’t been the beneficiary of millions of dollars in record label money ensuring they get played on the largest radio stations like all of these other bands have. BRMC has earned every ounce of success they’ve managed to achieve by making great, biting records and then touring like none other.

Shelly Biton
April 2, 2013 at 3:32 am

What a great album it is, thank you BRMC!

http://5songsperartist.blogspot.co.il/2013/04/specter-at-feast-black-rebel-motorcycle.html

Adam Palmaymesa
March 21, 2013 at 12:12 pm

The latter part of this review is as shallow and poorly delivered as the tracks in question are claimed to be. In light of the empathetic look into Robert Levon Been’s current situation, one might consider applying that empathy toward Hayes. Perhaps an attempt to understand where Hayes is in his journey through life, instead of writing him off as a washed out rocker who has nothing to offer, might yield an honest, even keeled observation, worthy of respect.

V For Vincennes
March 21, 2013 at 3:26 am

I’ve always felt that Robert and Peter are two different sides of the coin in terms of the songs they sing, and both are quite necessary. Peter has always had the more angsty angle, a bit more rage induced, and I think the songs he sings on Specter at the Feast are some of the heaviest sounding tracks ever from the band. Robert, as per usual, helps the other end of the scale with his more mellow delivery.
I’ve been listening to them since 2001, and have followed them faithfully every step of the way. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I can’t agree with writing off Peter Hayes as “faux posturing” and “second banana.” He’s the energetic yin to Robert Levon Been’s much more subtle yang.

Guest
March 21, 2013 at 3:25 am

I’ve always felt that Robert and Peter are two different sides of the coin in terms of the songs they sing, and both are quite necessary. Peter has always had the more angsty angle, a bit more rage induced, and I think the songs he sings on Specter at the Feast are some of the heaviest sounding tracks ever from the band. Robert, as per usual, helps the other end of the scale with his more mellow delivery.
I’ve only been listening to them since 2001, and have followed them faithfully every step of the way. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I can’t agree with writing off Peter Hayes as “faux posturing” and “second banana.” He’s the energetic yin to Robert Levon Been’s much more subtle yang.

doob
March 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Dan Caffrey, I like how you talk about Hayes’ “bullshit posturing” (even though you probably never met the guy and he’s a better musician than yourself and anybody you probably ever met) and “Sincerity” with this band when your band fails to reach…Even the internet search TOOL bar. You’re also a music critic…Because your not very successful in music, who only writes good reviews for bands you like.

H. Willie
March 21, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Doob, I’ve never had any sort of goal or dream about becoming a professional musician. The band I’m in is something a few friends and I do for fun. We’ve recorded a demo EP and gig once in a blue moon (we haven’t even rehearsed in a few months). We don’t send our stuff out to the press for review, and I promise you that none of us became music critics because we failed at “making it” as musicians. We were all critics long before we were in Library Ghost. I run a theatre company and if I had any sort of ultimate goal, it would be to write plays for a living. We’re called Tympanic. Google it and I bet it’ll come up in your TOOL bar. Speaking of which, I’ll be reviewing the TOOL reissue next week, so look out for that. Thanks for reading.

Dan