Don’t be alarmed when you hear The Cribs softly bidding you ‘Goodbye’ on the opening track of ‘Night Network’. The wry farewell that opens their new album, the Wakefield trio’s eighth and their first since 2017’s fine yet unmemorable ‘24-7 Rock Star Shit’, actually serves as a ‘So long – fuck you’ to the band’s recent period of turbulence.
The Jarman brothers were left staring defeat in the face following ‘24-7 Rock Star Shit’ due to a self-described “legal morass”. After unexpectedly parting ways with their management, a morale-sapping period in the wilderness followed; they couldn’t release music or tour (the gig-hardened band still haven’t played live since September 2018). “Towards the end of last year, we honestly could not even begin to imagine coming back and were seriously questioning our future as a band,” The Cribs revealed in a message to their fans back in August. “It felt almost like a distant dream or something.”
Step forward Dave Grohl. While supporting Foo Fighters in Manchester in the summer of 2018, the deflated Cribs received a pep talk from the gregarious frontman, who offered them a route out of their quagmire. “‘Forget about all that business stuff, come out to LA and make a record at our studio’ – Dave made that offer to us,” a relieved Ryan Jarman recalled.
It was precisely the kind of escape that the Jarman brothers so desperately needed: after reuniting at their parents’ house during Christmas 2018 to thrash out some new song ideas, the trio headed to the Foos’ Studio 606 the following April to record what would become ‘Night Network’, The Cribs’ best album in 11 years.
Back to ‘Goodbye’, then. The record’s very un-Cribsian surf-pop opener, complete with ‘Pet Sounds’-influenced harmonies, permits the band to first and foremost reflect on the bullshit (“Goodbye when you chose the sons of privilege,” one withering line goes) before consigning those tumultuous times to the past.
Point made, drummer Ross Jarman signals the resumption of normal service as his tumbling fill sparks lead single ‘Running Into You’ into life. “If I could only write her favourite song / Still be in her head when I am gone,” bassist Gary Jarman wistfully sings as his twin brother Ryan crafts a sprawling and very Cribsian riff from the barrage of fuzzy guitar he lays down throughout. There’s even an “ah-oh-oh-oh” cry thrown in at the end, almost like a tip of the hat to ‘The New Fellas’ era. Isn’t it good to have The Cribs back?
With that sense of normality restored, ‘Night Network’ presses on with making the case that this tight-knit, been there, done that band are reinvigorated after making a crucial breakthrough in the rediscovery of their mojo. Both Ryan and Gary turned 40 earlier this year, and their strong brotherly bond – and commitment to the band’s long-held ethos of honesty, perseverance and holding two fingers up to their detractors – remains intact here. After all, as Ryan autobiographically observes on ‘Screaming In Suburbia’, they’re “still the same kids, screaming in suburbia”.
Familiarity does not breed contempt here, though. An enormous riff on the fierce two-parter ‘The Weather Speaks Your Name’ harks back to the amp-testing limits The Cribs so often pushed their sound to on their self-titled 2003 debut. Closer ‘In The Neon Night’, meanwhile, seems destined to become a future live favourite due to its riotous, last-dance-of-the-night energy. It’s likely to transport you right back to 2004 due to its chugging ‘Martell’ vibe and Ryan’s increasingly frantic vocals (“How am I supposed to face the future when it feels like the past has turned its back on me?” he pointedly asks/yells at one point).
While the album’s indie and punkier moments do revitalise the record’s energy, there isn’t a sense of pining for that “classic Cribs sound” whenever the band do decide to explore other songwriting avenues. There’ll be no skipping past the Cribs-do-Motown energy of ‘Under The Bus Station Clock’ (who saw that coming?) or the rather beautiful melancholy of the low-key ‘Earl & Duke’.
One of the big headlines of ‘Night Network’ is The Cribs’ long-awaited reunion with Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, who provided spoken word on the bleakly brilliant ‘Be Safe’ back in 2007 (they performed the track remotely earlier this year as a lockdown treat). Their latest collaboration, the soaring ‘I Don’t Know Who I Am’, sees Ranaldo contributing backing vocals and overdubs of dreamy guitar distortion, with Gary vividly depicting a soap opera-style broken relationship: “You wouldn’t love me / Descend a marble staircase, slap me in my face / I don’t know who I am”.
Even being able to speculate positively about The Cribs’ future should be a cause of celebration these days, given that the band were so recently considering calling it a day. But this album gives ample reason to be cheerful going forward, and the trio now have a genuine shot at being a force in their own right in this new decade.
It may begin with a ‘Goodbye’, but ‘Night Network’ isn’t the sound of a run-down band staggering towards the finish line. Far from it – The Cribs have just embarked on a victory lap.
Release date: November 20
Record label: Sonic Blew