Colorado songwriter mixes obscenity and emotional heft with huge pop melodies
The Cribs - 'In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull'
The Jarman brothers’ best album yet
While their self-titled 2004 debut reveled in rough edges and the DIY-est of spirits, it was also riddled with hooks and the straight-shooting playfulness of a pop record. Same with their third album, 2007’s ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’, which is full of festival-baiting choruses, but counteracts them with ‘Be Safe’, a sprawling, spoken-word monologue from Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo. Then, ahead of 2009’s ‘Ignore The Ignorant’, came Johnny Marr to lend his fretwork to a canon of angsty tracks about the disillusionment of watching scenesters posing down the indie disco, probably while dancing to The Smiths. The Cribs’ hearts lie in the underground, but Gary, Ross and Ryan Jarman are too exciting and too downright brilliant at writing tunes to stay there. It’s a confusing dichotomy, but now is when it all clicks into place.
‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’ – their fifth record – is the clearest summation of everything the trio are about. It still defiantly goes against the grain, but also explodes with immediate, attention-grabbing riffs. And it marries these elements together by calling on the best bits from their previous albums (scrappy punk spirit, experimental quirks, genuine instrumental proficiency…) and whittling them into a concise manifesto. Take the Ryan-led ‘Chi-Town’, which spits by on punk thrashes and ramshackle, live-sounding vocals, with all the deadpan, straggly ends left in. Then take ‘Anna’ – on which Gary takes the helm – which peels back the intensity and pits the bassist’s reined-in, shimmering melodies alongside one hell of a redemptive pay-off (“I’m not yet who I want to be/So help me to change”). The presence of albums past is clear (‘Chi-Town’ could fit happily alongside any of ‘The New Fellas’, while ‘Anna’ wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Ignore The Ignorant’), and in less capable hands it would push ‘…Brazen Bull…’ into the realms of a kind of pseudo-Best Of. But the intrinsic viewpoint at the core of the band – the marriage of outsiderdom and pop – means there’s always enough Cribs-iness to pull it all together.
‘Jaded Youth’ explores the brothers’ go-to gripe of fashionistas who value style over substance (“Dye your hair red ’cos it’s back in fashion…”), but pairs it with chords so sprightly you’d hardly notice the weird and wonky structural see-saw they’re wrapped around. ‘Come On, Be A No-One’ bounces around self-deprecating, downbeat lyricisms (“I was trying so hard to enjoy everything/That I ended up enjoying nothing”) before a howling, nihilistic crescendo. It’s miserable, but by God it sounds great. Then there’s the epic and scuzzy ‘Back To The Bolthole’ – a paean to mortality and possibly the year’s most depressing anthem. ‘Uptight’ follows, which hits a direct melodic punch. The album ends with a four-track closing gambit – an opus that ducks between instrumental flourishes and full-on anthemics, closing with the majestic ‘Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast’. “Sorry that it’s taken years/We were victims of our own ideals/But I’d rather be tied to myself than to anyone else”, they sing in unison on the record’s final strains.
After years of doing their own thing and never tying themselves to anyone, The Cribs have finally found a point where they’re no longer victims of their own ideals. They are masters of them.
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