Today I ran into a friend from high school who I hadn’t seen in a long time. I’m a vinyl junkie, and he still has every single CD he every bought, so while we’re not into the same formats, we’re both music nerds with a bit of a collecting obsession. His wife asked me who I was into right now, and the immediate answer was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Which is funny, because while we finally got to see them live this year down in Salt Lake City, I don’t play their stuff as often as I should. So tonight I sought to rectify that massive oversight by busting into my copy of American X: The Baby 81 Sessions.
Baby 81 is definitely my favorite BRMC album, so a few years back when they offered it on limited edition vinyl as well as the first-time vinyl release of outtakes from those sessions I was probably the one of the first to send them my money and wait anxiously by my mailbox. I was certainly impressed with it when I first listened, and for the life of me I have no idea why I’ve let it sit and get dusty other than the fact that I just keep buying more and more and more and more vinyl. Which, come to think of it, is the best possible reason.
To my ears the material on American X is more sludgy than the songs that made the final cut for Baby 81. Slower, heavier, denser. Much more reminiscent of the songs that comprised the follow up album that came out four years later, Beat the Devil’s Tattoo. Musically the songs are rich and full, sinking into every nook and cranny of available time, like syrup poured over a waffle, settling into each little square. The thickness isn’t limited to the music, either – vocally it’s dark and follows the music, the sound of the voices flowing like instruments of their own.
The CD version has seven songs and a short film, while the vinyl releases add a sort of country remix of “Not What You Wanted” as an eighth track, the only song appearing on both American X and Baby 81. While I’m a big fan of Baby 81, the depth of American X is shocking – these were the songs that didn’t make the cut, and are still good enough to make an excellent (albeit different) album on their own; there was a lot of outstanding material that came out of these sessions. Of the seven non-Baby 81 tracks, “20 Hours” is probably the one I’d say was most likely to fit into the overall sound and fell of the album that was released, somewhat louder and sharper than the other songs, with a touch of garage psych to the vocals.
The vinyl comes in two versions – black, and the limited edition picture disc, one side of which has a white-and-black American flag, the other a black-and-white American flag. I have the picture disc version, and it also comes with a poster insert that includes the lyrics to all the songs. If you’re a fan of BRMC, American X is simply a must-have. These songs aren’t outtakes, they’re fully formed and realized compositions and mark an interesting stage in the evolution of the band’s sound.