By Edward Burnett
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are a San Francisco indie-rock band comprising of Peter Hayes (vocals, guitar), Robert Levon Been (vocals, bass) and Leah Shapiro (drums) who replaced original drummer Nick Jago in 2008. Over 19 years ago, the band released their debut album 'B.R.M.C.' which was a tasteful mix of atmospheric drumbeats and powerful, haunting lyrics. This very album is this article's main focus as its importance of altering a whole genre and subsequently the global music scene too, is very much understated.
When Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (named after Marlon Brando's own motorcycle gang in the 1953 film 'The Wild One') surged onto the scene in 2001, the concept of indie-rock wasn't as familiar a term as it is today. In the band's home country of the United States, the recently passed decade of the 1990s was dominated by grunge rock. Bands such as Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and most famously Nirvana were all major household names worldwide and had managed to provide a popular alternative to the heavy presence of pop music. In England during the same time period Britpop commanded the charts with bands including Oasis, Blur and Pulp all gaining mass support and glowing reviews for their reintroduction of a form of rock and roll back to the main stage. However true indie-rock as we know it was absent from this and did not have a large following. Enter Peter Hayes and co.
The band's debut album features 11 well-crafted songs which encompass topics of regret, realisation and redemption (how's that for alteration). The album starts off with a dark mood and themes regarding the breakdown of love with lyrics such as "never thought that I'd rather die than try to keep her by my side" from the opener, 'Love Burns'. This lyric in particular highlights how relations can turn sour and in turn documents that shift in viewpoints of someone close to you in a betrayal of reputations. This topic of realisation combined with the heavy drum beat in the back and the reversing guitars present allows for a sense of rebirth in the song's story which reflects the album as a whole. 'B.R.M.C.' can be seen as encapsulating a rebellious attitude within music which emits a overall feeling of recovery after having lost a person you believed to be someone else. The recovery is complete by the final song, aptly titled 'Salvation'. Although this final tune offers little in the way of lyrics to confirm this personal reflection and turnaround, its greatest message is instead conveyed in the melody itself. The music is upbeat yet without compromising on the band's universal style at all, keeping the iconic reverting guitars and atmospheric drumming pattern. Yet the song manages to sound both positive and climatic allowing Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's debut tale to be told with a convincing and emotional ending that our character from the songs has truly found personal recovery and moved on. This is a feature is something that many albums fall short of due to poor track structure and thus suffer from it.
So why is 2001's 'B.R.M.C.' so important then? Not only was its style and actual theme of recovery quite unique at the turn of the millennium but it also gave birth to the indie-rock band of the 21st century featuring the importance of complex drum beats (only previously seen in this style in the hip-hop tracks of the 1990s), powerful electric guitars taking the to the forefront of the sound and of course, leather jackets. Many have been inspired to follow suit after 'B.R.M.C.' with Sheffield's Arctic Monkeys most notably delving deep into this style during their critically acclaimed 'AM' era in 2013. Also supporting the hair gel, leather jackets and kickass attitude, Alex Turner's band succeeded in giving off a recognisable vibe to those familiar with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The connections don't stop there though with even albums title, 'AM', is also an acronym of the band's name, similarly to 'B.R.M.C.' with the two bands also performing together at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on August 7th 2014. Inspiration from 'B.R.M.C.' in other indie-rock bands since is just as evident with California's The Neighbourhood with 'Wiped Out!' (2015) and Llandudno's Catfish and the Bottlemen's 'The Balcony" (2014) both encompassing Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's initial style.
All in all, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club managed to bring the slick and stylish edition of indie-rock to the musical forefront, inspiring an ultra-cool approach which has continued throughout this century on both side's of the Atlantic. Due credit also has to be paid to The Strokes of course as they too helped facilitate this adaption of rock for the 21st century generation with their own brand of garage rock. Yet with this said, many have already noted The Strokes' contributions whereas as this article shows, the lesser known San Francisco outfit played their role to as much of an influential standard, if not more so. Their showstopper debut release proved that both musical style and substance could be achieved all while rocking a leather jacket and preaching important life lessons which are as well constructed as they are realistic. The third track of the album is entitled 'Whatever Happened To My Rock 'N' Roll' and with this now classic debut, the band have not only effectively provided a response to the question but ensured that the question would never be relevant again.
If you would like to find out what the band are up to nowadays or listen to their music since, links to all their socials can be found below: