Say what you like about The Cribs (they look like their mum cut their hair, that bleeding-all-the-time thing was a bit gross, the phrase ‘ethical indie’ was the most ideologically flawed utterance of 2007), but you have to admit they’ve demonstrated an intriguing approach in choosing the people who produce their records. Duties for 2004’s eponymous debut were handed to Chicago’s avant-garde protest singer Bobby Conn, the following year’s ‘The New Fellas’ was realised perfectly by [a]Orange Juice[/a] man [a]Edwyn Collins[/a], while two years ago [a]Franz Ferdinand[/a]’s Alex Kapranos lent ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’ the pop sheen that assisted the band’s long-anticipated savaging of the mainstream. Eclectic selections for sure, but you can’t help but admire the band for not just picking Paul Epworth, a man who’s certainly helped make some great records but who must think, “God, not another shitty guitar band who want me to save their career” every time his studio reception phone rings.
Not that the Wakefield band need anyone to save their career; the success of ‘Men’s Needs…’, along with their almost veteran pop status (how many bands get to make more than two albums in 2009?) has more or less allowed them the freedom to do what they want from here on in. This time round they’ve gone for Nick Launay, a name which might not be familiar unless you really enjoy reading record sleeves, yet that he engineered [a]Public Image Ltd’[/a]s astonishing ‘The Flowers Of Romance’ gives a clue as to where we’re going. Wistfully awkward, reverential of the period of ’80s alternative pop ridiculously compartmentalised as ‘post-punk’ and, as such, often cold and uncomfortable; once you get beyond opener ‘We Were Aborted’, album number four is often unlike anything the band have done before.
Which isn’t to say the band have lost the nous of writing the kind of lingering hooks that often come easier to people who know three chords rather than a thousand. (‘We Share The Same Skies’ is so delightfully poppy it might be viewed as a homage to ‘Brotherhood’-era [a]New Order[/a]), rather it’s become apparent they’ve now learned the knack of making a song’s empty space ring out as loud as the bits they’ve atypically filled with Gary Jarman’s West Yorks appropriation of Kurt Cobain. It’s a trick they deploy on the ramshackle ‘Hari Kari’ and on the record’s best song, ‘The City Of Bugs’, which opens like an amalgamation of [a]Slint[/a]’s ‘Nosferatu Man’ and [a]Fugazi[/a]’s ‘Promises’, yet eventually finds a groove that’s eerily dystopian in tone and which, unlike the most impassioned rants of their past, knows when to be quiet and when to roar.
One song which knows that trick better than most is ‘Save Your Secrets’. More a ghost of a tune than a full-bodied song, it’s undoubtedly the most vulnerable The Cribs have ever sounded on record; Ryan Jarman’s stretched backing vocal adding to the beauty of the song, a whistled melody leading the way to the tune’s coda. And speaking of the once-bloody one, while the majority of the record’s singing has been handed over to his less atonal twin, there’s some charismatic guitar playing throughout. ‘Nothing’ has a locked-down chug that’s reminiscent of the US indie-rock influenced playing that [a]Graham Coxon[/a] tried his best to ruin [a]Blur[/a] songs with, while the album’s opener, where two guitars collide with only a whisper of pre-feedback to separate them, announces that, just in case you’re oblivious to the sycophantic bleating that accompanies Marr’s every guitar lick (he’s a good player, a seminal player even, but he was also in The Healers), The Cribs now have an honorary Jarman on board.
Marr is a welcome addition; whereas the former Smiths man’s principal significance in guesting with Seattle’s [a]Modest Mouse[/a] was in shining some star factor on an unfairly overlooked band, his new role is one of enhancement. The record’s title track is the moment where ‘Panic’ and The Cribs’ traditional lo-fi stomp align, while his playing on ‘Last Year’s Snow’ is chiefly concerned in wrangling the six-string beauty befitting a title so evocative. You imagine a man as humble as Marr would never wish to take credit for a band who were beloved by those of a certain disposition long before his arrival, but it is telling, despite the song title seemingly ripped from the pages of the riot grrrl fanzines the Jarmans have long espoused as being close to their hearts, that closer ‘Stick To Yr Guns’ swaggers with a grace befitting his unparalleled portfolio of work. This is The Cribs’ best album to date. Well, until they ring up Trevor Horn for the next one. Oh, Lordy, make that so!
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