Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Album Review: THE CRIBS - Ignore The Ignorant (Wichita)

(This article was originally written for the website Muso's Guide,

The Cribs’ 2007 album Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever was one of the best straight-up guitar records released that year: it saw the hitherto defiantly lo-fi Wakefield trio smoothing out their sound (with the help of producer Alex Kapranos) without losing any of their vital edge. Combined with their grass-roots attitude to live gigs and their entertaining media soundbites (around the time of the Live 8 concerts, frontman Ryan Jarman announced that ‘‘the mainstream attitude of most indie bands’’ was a bigger threat to the planet than global warming), it set The Cribs up as the anti-Razorlight or the anti-Killers; a beacon of indie integrity in the face of arena-rock pandering; the sort of guitar band you’d be tippexing onto your pencil case if you were still in school.

And then, things took a surprising turn. Fresh from a short dalliance with Modest Mouse, ex-Smiths guitarist and living legend Johnny Marr heard the furious ‘Hey Scenesters!’ on his radio, and after a meeting with bassist/singer Gary Jarman, asked to join the band for some dates. The initial novelty of seeing this grizzled veteran jamming with three irreverent upstarts was nothing compared to the news that he was to become a full-time member of the band, initiated into the gang as it were.

While Marr’s influence on Modest Mouse’s sound was arguably fairly negligible, at least in a noticeable sense, his stamp is all over the Jarman brothers’ fourth album. If the title indicates a politicising of the band’s anti-scenester invective (the British National Party won a seat in the band’s Yorkshire constituency), the reality is that the Cribs have mellowed somewhat. While opening track ‘We Were Aborted’ pulses with declamatory, righteous anger, it’s lead single ‘Cheat On Me’ that serves notice of the changes in their sound: the guitarwork is melodic and elegant rather than clanging or spiky, Ryan almost croons the words instead of bellowing them, while the general tone – musically and lyrically - seems wistful and conflicted, in contrast to the self-assured verve of yore.

‘City Of Bugs’ is another curveball for those who expected Men’s Needs: Part II. The band collaborated with Lee Ranaldo on their last album, and the influence of Sonic Youth is evident on this track, its atmospheric guitar and evocative lyrics (‘’A perfumed gust drifts to my core / I give you one last look / Through a cross-hatched door’’) interspersed with passages of squall. Elsewhere, ‘Last Year’s Snow’ and ‘Save Your Secrets’ are chiming, (whisper it) mature-sounding ballads, the former more successful than the rather limp latter.
Surprisingly, it’s the more uptempo numbers where Ignore The Ignorant really fails to make an impact. The much-vaunted title-track turns out to be something of a damp squib, its rinkety-dink rhythm recalling frivolous Britpop rather than furious agit-prop (although fair play to the band for addressing the BNP issue), while tracks like ‘We Share The Same Skies’ and ‘Victim of Mass Production’ sound as generic and personality-free as the bands The Cribs used to condemn. Which is worrying.

You can’t ignore Marr’s role in all this. While his playing is frequently impressive here, it’s just hard to see what either party is gaining from this union. While the Cribs’ sound has become fuller and more subtle, it’s at the expense of the dynamic energy and raw intensity that were the essence of the band. Nothing on this record matches the furious blitz of ‘Major’s Titling Victory’ or ‘Hey Scenesters!’ – instead, we have another of those dreaded 'mature' albums from acts who don’t need to mature. The result is that the Jarmans and their new pal are increasingly in danger of becoming exactly what they railed against, and what we want them to rail against.

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