There’s a paradoxical consistency to the brothers Jarman. Amidst the milieu of blood-splattered live outings, well-publicised indie tabloid break-ups and the brief adoption of one Mr Johnny Marr into the family fold, there’s been an unfaltering consistency of quality and irrepressible identity to The Cribs‘ 8-year output. With 4 well-received albums under their belt, their latest opus In The Belly of The Brazen Bull might ultimately offer more of the same, but further demonstrates the Wakefield trio’s well-documented capacity for crowd-busting choruses and bristling energy.
The trio perhaps have a reputation as underwhelmists. From the lo-fi twang of their eponymous debut, through the hook-laden The New Fellas and on to their recent Marr-assisted output, there have been few major changes in sound; there have been deviations, but rarely has the rough-edged path that The Cribs walk on been abandoned. Equally, their fifth effort offers few surprises. There is however, a palpable change in mood. In the wake of that much-discussed break-up, the sneering anger and snotty sloganeering that crept into Mens Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever and on into Ignore The Ignorant has been replaced -mostly – with a bittersweet air of introspection. The excellent ‘Uptight’ takes on mournful realisation, (“Nobody has to tell me/I know I have to let it go”), and even the fairly chirpy three-chord punk of ‘Chi-Town’ is fraught with memories of romance past. That’s not to say, of course, that they’ve taken entirely to lovelorn balladry, but simply that their catchy Replacements-esque twang is informed by – even at odds with – a certain amount of retrospective remorse.
Considering the direct, quick-fire manner in which the first seven songs are delivered, there’s perhaps a slight sag towards the latter part of the album. ‘Back to Bolthole’ is an impressive cacophony of coarse, chaotic guitars, but compared to the sharp delivery of ‘Anna’ or ‘Chi-town’, it can be a struggle to permeate the drudging pace and tide of fuzz-laden guitars. Whilst ‘I Should Have Helped’ may display the album’s only reprieve from cutting guitars and pounding drums, the fingerpicked Americana-lite it gives us offers little in the way of excitement. These strangely-timed, oddly-placed moments of deviation cut through the album’s atmosphere with odd juxtaposition and, at the heart of it, are simply just not as interesting as when The Cribs are delivering the sort of frenetic, contemporary punk energy in which they’re so well versed. When the Jarman brothers go down this route, they usually do it with particular finesse. From the squeal of feedback that launches the ‘Glitters Like Gold’, it seems pretty likely that The Cribs will only ever really specialise in delivering this sort of buzzsaw spirit – though occasionally, as on the relatively weak ‘Jaded Youth’, it feels a little lost and formulaic.
The four-part closing sequence of In the Belly of the Brazen Bull more than makes up for the album’s occasional shortcomings, offering a disparate segue through to the album’s end. Launched by the marching snares of the dark ‘Stalagmites’, the last portion of the album moves through the shimmering guitars and quasi-psychadelia of ‘Like a Gift-Giver’ and into ‘Butterflies’ – resplendent in its Cure-a-like guitar work. The arrival of the rather knowingly titled ‘Arena Rock Encore with Full Cast’ is a fittingly redemptive close to the album; an impassioned, utterly bombastic moment of hand-on-heart yelling from a band who specialise in being the right sort of noisy.
Whilst more than likely to divide critics for being an exercise in old dogs performing their – unashamedly enjoyable- old tricks, In the Belly of The Brazen Beast revels in its own defiance. With more of the spiky independence that has always hung around the Jarman brothers, it is filled with enough hook-laden energy and clamourous noise if not to broaden their fanbase, then at least to please established initiates. The darkening of mood that informs this album is simultaneously its most confusing element and its most fascinating and beguiling. These remorseful patters don’t suffocate, they just sometime sit at odds with the rowdy hooks and venue-filling cries. As ever with The Cribs though, this heady mix of enthusiasm and bitterness ultimately deliver up another raw-edged opus. They may have not spent the past near-decade carving out new directions, but they’ve honed a personal sound that keeps retaking our attention, and as the closing portion of the album shows, they’re still capable of slinging a few surprises our way.