black rebel’s baby 81 wants to feel

by Zach Kincaid
I took out a loan on my empty heart, babe
I took out a loan for my patient soul
And I feel alive as long as I don’t need you
And I feel alive as long as I keep hold
Dripping with a need to feel and get outside of the trapdoors within their souls, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club once again supplies a deeper pool of thought in a landscape of shallow, girl-inspired rock and roll. Baby 81 certainly has its share of lovers, but its hunt is not gratification or romance alone. Carrying over pieces of howlesque blues and layering in strident take-them-on guitars, Black Rebel recreates themselves again on this fourth release, countering their nonchalant rebel swagger with songs that won’t let you go.

“Took Out A Loan” is delicate underneath its blare that despairingly unwinds at the song’s conclusion. It’s a wake up call to shuffle you’re your feet a little quicker… or maybe start bouncing in the air to the renewed energy of a Black Rebel who fell from a wall and is now back together again. (Been and Hayes welcomed back drummer Nick Jago after an extended hiatus.)

The second offering, “Berlin,” blends lovers and killers to make killers of lovers and lovers set to kill each other. The result is feeding what we think is love yet does not feel like it according to love’s definition. Since love is an act that involves someone else, when the virtue of love is exchanged for its vice of hatred or anger or strife, the result is suicide of the soul. As the guitar tries to catch the voice Black Rebel belts out, “Suicide’s easy / What happened to the revolution.” Over again, “Suicide’s easy / What happened to the revolution.” If we’re lucky, we are awakened from our apathetic smug long enough to effect change.

But hold on. What’s in your war chest? How are you to succeed? What’s your weapon of choice? asks BRMC. Why? Because if we are to be passionate, passion must meet up with activism that is calculated – that is measured by more than simply feelings, whether amid political circles “Weapon of Choice” speaks about, or in love relationships that “Took Out A Loan” references. Frontloaded with a simple riff and tambourine, the song moves quickly until Been is screaming “I won’t waste it, I won’t waste it, I won’t waste my love on a nation.”

The next cut “Window” is regretful. The simple falsetto says, “You want it, you need it, the words slip away. Your crying your eyes out, your mind wants to break.” It pleads to turn away from world outside your window and instead, look through the pane of yourself and reconcile what’s inside you – those fractured senses, spidery trapdoors, buried feelings, and an altered realities. The song ends with a melodic refrain questioning “how many… how many… how many”… until we finally realize what is lost and the negation of what we’ve gained through deceit laden arrogance.
How many people must learn
How many roads must you turn…
How many tears must you cry
How many buried inside…
How many years must you fight
How many stories survive…
How many days must you brave
How many years must you pay
“Cold Wind” is a wake up call to step outside and feel again – the elements that break us down each season, that rape the landscape of green and ring it out with a slow transition from death and life again. “I’ve been waiting for the right time just to begin…” is the driving lyric. And when the right time hits, it’s as simple and mysterious as a cold wind breaking into the guise of summer’s permanence and tempting it into a sway of change.

And “Not What You Wanted” swings in, leading the listener into the best chorus of Baby 81, falling into it with ease. It sticks to you. And it serves as notes from that unmarked place where genuine feelings get masked by unchecked emotions (and the other way around) –
You know you’ve got a long way down
You feel it when you hit the ground
It’s not what you wanted
It’s not what you came here for
This place just leaves you cold
Where nothing matters
Hung on the line “You’re lucky words don’t bleed,” “All You Do Is Talk” says that simply talking about love doesn’t give the word any meaning. Love is only completed by actions; that’s the only way it finds true hooks into a soul. So, Black Rebel “took out loans” on an untried love in the first track and they make dreams indebted in a song titled “Lien on Your Dreams,” the nicely punned ninth song on Baby 81:
There’s a lien on your dreams
That keeps you going under
And a hole in the floor
That drops us all together
You can fight all you like
There’s no way to hide it
The next three songs, “Need Some Air,” “Killing the Light,” and “American X” follow a similar format of identifying void spaces within us and grasping for something outside, something bigger than soul alone – fresh air, the constancy of the sun, no-strings-attached honesty, and all-out societal reparation are themes. For example, from “American X:”
There’s nothing here that is left to be saved…
You feast your eyes on American sex
You sleep in shores of American bliss
Growing wings from the sorrowless excess
Your frozen eyes cut the chord to their last depth
You share your young with the wolves of a nation
There’s nothing left ‘til you pray for salvation
“Am I Only” provides a tinge of resolve in the mood it sets, though the lyrics still stab back and want to assess the value of ideas and songs and expressions and people themselves.

In the end, Baby 81 leaves us hanging from a precipice, ready to fall into something more solid than baby 80 or baby 82.

(August 2007)