The Cribs – In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull
After a guitar god like Johnny Marr leaves your band there’s gotta be a moment where you scratch your head and ask, “What now?” But if you’re the Jarman brothers AKA The Cribs you decide to play up your individual strengths and forget about the consequences. Because while fifth studio album, In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull may not reinvent the wheel, there are enough sterling guitars, melody and contained spontaneity to keep things fresh, pretty and literate.
The 14 tracks were originally born as song fragments and it was a rather piecemeal effort with recording taking place in Switzerland, Chicago, New York and London. They enlisted the production help of two of the biggest names in the biz, David Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, Weezer) and Steve Albini (Nirvana, The Stooges). The three brothers spent some time recapturing the spirit of the early days, making and exploring noises with Gary (bass, vocals) focusing on the gentler, pop elements while Ryan (guitar, vocals) pushed the raw, punk moments.
The guys had a lot of different ideas and at times this behemoth feels like it contains everything and the kitchen sink. There are distorted and layered guitars that are charged with the same kind of spirit that Cobain, Moore and Mascis have brought to the table. It is energetic and arty with memorable hooks that are confident and playful; that hold your attention while also being experimental and varied, while the volume also packs a punk punch.
Glitters Like Gold is some melodic rock where the boys ask: “Should I say something?
It seems like they’d like me better/If just sing nonsense/Anyway”. Thankfully they don’t take this idea too seriously as the following single, Come On, Be A No-One is easily the best thing here. Musically it is like Weezer-meets-Nirvana and is an anthem for losers, as they bounce in self-deprecating glory. It’s fun but also wise in the realisation: “I was trying hard to enjoy everything/That I ended up enjoying nothing”.
Other moments are less memorable even though Anna manages to include some jangle while Confident Men is a tad reminiscent of The Strokes. The album’s other single, Chi-Town is an urgent stomper where Ryan rather cathartically exorcises some demons before the regretful ballad that is I Should Have Helped.
The closing four tracks are combined to form a song suite and are: Stalagmites, Like A Gift Giver, Butterflies and Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast. These run the full gamut of indie rock and punk through to full-blown theatrics, particularly in the latter track. This one is also defiant and literally delivers on its promise, as the guys bring things to a rousing end with their tongues placed firmly in cheeks.
In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull is a twisted affair brimming with ideas but also sees The Cribs at their most confident, proud and passionate. The lyrics draw on heartbreak and they do apologise for some past faults – including being victims of their own ideas. But on their latest LP they deliver a solid effort full of textures, effects and melodies with absolutely no need for people to ask, “Where’s Johnny?”