Praise be – The Cribs are on the comeback, and it won’t be too long before their fifth album is out and they’re tearing around the country again covering crash barriers with chin blood and attempting to break their own record for how long you can wear the same white t-shirt on tour.
Of course, they are now Johnny Marr-less, and as enjoyable and interesting as his time with the Jarmans was, most fans have been filled with excitement at the thought of the band returning to their rip-roaring roots as a three-piece again. And with the trio promising a return in ethos and spirit to their first two albums, there’s a lot of cause for optimism.
Most fans hold the band’s first two albums as the most hallowed. But is it as simple as the old “Their first stuff was the best stuff?” arguement? Well, no. I know I’ll be going against common Cribs consensus, but here’s my attempt at ranking their albums in order of fantastic-ness.
1. ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’
A perfect balance of their most needling, nagging riffs and anthemic expansions, the Jarmans’ third album is one of the greatest British guitar records of our times. ‘Our Bovine Public’ remains one of the most punkishly thrilling beginnings to an album since ‘London Calling’, and while that song plus the roaring ‘Men’s Needs’ and ‘Girls Like Mystery’ showed that the band’s fire-it-off-then-reload approach to whippet-paced anthems was at its strongest here, we got the first inklings that Ryan could rise his shiny bowl cut above the indie parapet. ‘Be Safe’, featuring a whirling monologue from Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, boasted an anthemic up-down chorus that made it a live highlight even without the back screen featuring Ranaldo playing with a set of false teeth.
2. ‘The New Fellas’
Seemingly anti-produced by Edwyn Collins, the band’s second album, released in 2005, was in fact a perfectly poised step-up from their tin can debut. Opener ‘Hey Scenesters’ approaches like a galloping hoard of indie-minded horses before arguably their finest riff jabs in, while on ‘Mirror Kissers’ Ryan has never sounded more spittily vitriolic as he riled against scenester culture. ‘The Wrong Way To Be’, meanwhile, which often soundtracked the singer removing his shoes and leaping into a crowd only to have most of his clothes shorn off within seconds, hinted at a vision that would later be perfected on ‘Be Safe’.
3. ‘The Cribs’
Yeah, yeah, OK, so most people think the debut is the best. But it’s not – if only by virtue of the stonking pedigree of the two records above rather than any deficiencies of its own. Recorded in a week, it’s the definition of indie lo-fi. But not willful indie lo-fi; the scratches, clangs and gawwumps all heard here are genuinely the product of the trio’s shoestring methods rather than the usual contrived fuzz that bands spend ages poring over beaten up eight-tracks to achieve. It’s still an incredible album, boasting a lighter way with melodies and sweetness before the vitriol kicked in later on (see ‘You Were Always The One’) and contains an early indicator of Ryan’s status as one of the best – and most underrated – guitarists of his generation on that ‘Another Number’ riff.
4. ‘Ignore The Ignorant’
Well, as we used to tell poor Porky Percy when he wheezed across the finish line for the school marathon, someone’s got to come last – but it doesn’t mean you’re no good. Thing is, it’s true in this case – ‘Ignore The Ignorant’, the band’s fourth album, released in 2009 with Johnny Marr as a paid-up member, is their weakest, but is still an absolute belter. Johnny brought more than Smithsy riffs to the set-up – the Stone Roses-esque ‘City Of Bugs’ showed a dark dimension to the band they’d only previously hinted at – and ‘Cheat On Me’, ‘Victims Of Mass Production’ and ‘We Share The Same Skies’ once more confirmed The Cribs’ lineage as a great British indie band, as they effortlessly whisked off Great British Riff after Great British Chorus and back again. It didn’t quite have the untethered magic of the previous albums – one of the reasons why they parted ways with Johnny before beginning their fifth – but it’s still a worthy lump of ammo in their increasingly powerful cannon.
So, that’s my take on The Cribs’ work so far. Agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts / abuse / lists below.