“Punk rock and indie’s dead, you know? How are we going to make money any more? I mean, the private jets won’t pay for themselves”, The Cribs’ bassist Gary Jarman recently joked on the band’s return to pop-indie affections. Ryan is quick to clarify that the Wakefield brothers aren’t shying away from their melodic side on new album For All My Sisters. Pop isn’t a “dirty word” word in The Cribs camp and their poppier sensibilities have rarely worked to the bands’ detriment.
If this were a venture into new and more accessible territory, those less familiar with the band may be forgiven for taking Gary’s comments seriously, especially after last year’s move to Sony RED after a decade-long relationship with indie Witchita. But that indie-pop, guitar-hook driven persona is something that has always been a part of The Cribs, the most apparent example being 2009’s ‘Mens’ Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’. Even with this initial super-polished, indie-club-favourite success they were unfairly pigeonholed with the wave of forgettable indie bands of the early noughties. But they were, and always have been, so much more.
For the most part with this objective on For All My Sisters they stick to their word throughout. Lead single ‘Burning For No-One’, ‘Diamond Girl’, ‘Mr Wrong’ and ‘Different Angle’ (which Ryan says presents a “classic Cribs-y riff”) all tick the necessary boxes of quality indie-pop writing; attractive riffs complementing memorable choruses with vocal duties shared between the twin front men, spurring a tapping foot and nodding head without ostentatiousness. And make no mistake, these boxes do not represent a lack of effort on the Jarmans’ part in comparison to something more, at first glance, multifaceted such as ‘Pure O’ or ‘Jaded Youth‘ from 2012’s In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull. They are a lesson in the genre in their own right.
Elsewhere they delve into less instantly gratifying. The drum-absent, mid-point breather ‘Simple Story’ echoes the more stripped-back sound of earlier, rawer releases like ‘The Cribs’ or ‘The New Fellas’. While ‘City Storms’, ‘Summer of Chances’ and ‘Pacific Time’ follow in a similar production the rest of For All My Sisters packs slightly less of a punch, sounding closer to throwaways from a songwriting session from the less memorable (though often unfairly lambasted) Jonny Marr-assisted ‘Ignore The Ignorant’. At this point the Cribs are almost immune from releasing anything sub-par but they struggle to hit that immediate pop hook or raw punk energy.
However Gary and Ryan’s comments on committing to their return to pop tendencies isn’t entirely true. …Sisters occasionally flies closer to the larger, darker, and more complex sound of …Brazen Bull where, to many casual fans, The Cribs finally surpassed the status of successful indie up-starts and became the bonafide punk-rock veterans they are rightfully considered to be in the current majority.
Case in point, album highlight, band favourite, and final track ‘Pink Snow’ bares very little to no resemblance to something from ‘Men’s Needs’ other than perhaps the brooding epic ‘Be Safe’ led by Sonic Youth ‘s Lee Ranaldo’s rambling speech. Stop-start verses from Ryan’s slow, anticipating guitar, as he calmly sings “To all my sisters/ I promise this that/ I’ll try and be brave for you”. Here, piercing distortion kicks in, leading Gary and Ross into the screaming, repetition of the chorus’ “Do you picture me alone?” before they sign the album off, almost inevitably, in the indulgence of this punk momentum for last few minutes. Brutally cut, Gary admitted they still couldn’t get this below 7-minutes, and thank God.
While the Wakefield-trio have yet again demonstrated their ability to master an album of directly engaging indie-pop when they set out to, you can’t help but wonder; is it not when they are at this over-the-top, raw level of punk energy that they are at their most memorable, engaging, volatile, and progressive? Either way, reassuringly they continue to demonstrate an almost unparalleled consistency of quality and necessity for a place in today’s music scene. If there is any truth in this theory, we wait patiently and eagerly for the upcoming second half of their dual-album promise, in the Steve Albini-produced punk endeavour. And if not, at least their air mileage is covered now.