There's been something kind of suspect about Black Rebel Motorcycle Club from the moment it debuted. Its first album, 2000's B.R.M.C., was a roaring rock record equally indebted to The Stooges, The Jesus & Mary Chain, and Sunset Strip heavy metal, and if the L.A.-based band had integrated those influences naturally into its songs, they mightn't have seemed so squirrelly. Instead, like Jet, The Datsuns, and a handful of other acts that cropped up during the brief neo-garage craze of the early '00s, BRMC sounded too controlled in its lack of control. And the follow-up album, 2003's Take Them On, On Your Own, didn't help the band's image any, since it lost even the rudimentary hooks of the first record in favor of a rough-hewn, monolithic wall of noise and pose.
The volume drops precipitously on album number three, Howl, and the quality falls off even further. Howl indulges the band's heretofore-dormant interest in country, gospel, and Delta blues, in an exercise that sounds about as exercise-y as music gets. Case in point: the generically titled "Gospel Song," which follows a tick-tock beat and a stock blues-guitar signature, while vocalist Robert Turner murmurs "I will stay with Jesus" at the beginning of nearly every line. Repetition seems to be the dominant mode on Howl. The record's first single, "Ain't No Easy Way," never changes shape from its first rote slide-guitar note to its last, and much of the song consists of Turner moaning the title over and over. Howl's utter creative bankruptcy is apparent from the album-opener, "Shuffle Your Feet," where Turner leans hard on the repeated line "time won't save our souls" like he can't remember what he's supposed to sing next. It's easy for a band to rest on a few chords and a rigid rhythm when it's got stacks of amps behind it and cool-boy swagger out front. But roots music requires more authentic heart, and that's one thing Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has always lacked.