After completely (and successfully) rehauling their sound for 2005's Howl, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club shelved their low-key Americana leanings, reburied their roots music influences, and retreated to a new version of their old, noisy sound. Baby 81 is a big rock record with walls of crunchy guitars, thundering drums, and lots of volume that sounds like a cross between Oasis and the Jesus and Mary Chain at their most conventional. It's also an over-polished, over-thought, and under-inspired record that forsakes everything good that the group accomplished on Howl (subtlety, emotion weight, solid songcraft) in favor of stale melodies, vacant lyrics, and clichéd bad-boy rock & roll posturing. Songs like "666 Conducer," "Berlin" (which is saddled with the howlingly bad chorus "Suicide's easy/What happened to the revolution?"), the slick new wave bandwagon-hopper "American X," and the clunky "Lien on Your Dreams" are like paint-by-numbers rockers that even JAMC would set aside as too bland. The Mary Chain comparison is blindingly obvious, but maybe a bit unfair to the Reid brothers; even at their most generic, they always had the evil force of their personalities to help sell their pose, but BRMC has no personality to fall back on. This album slinks past in an embarrassing haze of forgettable songs and missed opportunities. Even the couple of tunes that start off promising, like the moody "All You Do Is Talk" or "Am I Only" (which teases by opening with a quiet acoustic guitar passage), are ruined by the hackneyed production and the overall tired, desperate feeling that pervades the album. After Howl, it seemed like the group was poised to make some very good, honest-sounding records. Instead they have succumbed to an ill-fated attempt to get back in the rock & roll game, and it's a painfully disappointing artistic failure.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra