Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Apparently, breaking up helped Black Rebel Motorcyle Club more than it hurt. After losing drummer Nick Jago, remaining members Peter Hayes and Robert Been took an abrupt, well-received detour into acoustic-based folk on 2005's Howl, which soon led to Jago's return. The time apart must have worked some sort of charm on the band's creative process. On Baby 81, the just-released new album, BRMC brings a new level of focus and originality to its moody blend of psychedelia, blues rock and British-angled pop. Jago claims he spent most of the time recording the album on the verge of tears, and it's easy to see why if he was thinking that he nearly derailed his band before it reached its prime. Sure, BRMC had tickled critics and peers early on, but its amalgamation of styles, though strikingly left-of-center, suggested an underlying, self-conscious calculation on par with its oh-so-dark image. Now, the leather jackets, the fashion-spread album covers, and the fact that the band uses enough hair gel to pose an environmental threat all on its own are all rendered moot. Baby 81 comes roaring out of the gate with a stomping number that both epitomizes and levels the trend popularized by the White Stripes. From there, the album subsumes everything the band has tried before—including Howl's acoustica—into a potent sound that captures the attitude and mystery the band hadn't quite grasped before. It's hard to channel Zeppelin and shoegaze without sounding tired. When you can do that and throw touches of STP and Robert Palmer into the mix, clearly your mojo's on-point.