Review: The Cribs – ‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’

bellybrazenbullThere’s a certain air of nostalgia to The Cribs‘ fifth album ‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’; an echo of the 1990s resonates throughout its production and the songwriting.

It should come as no surprise then to learn that production credits belong to Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Jane’s Addiction, Weezer, Mercury Rev) with Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, Manic Street Preachers) chipping in his recording services for one track.

While The Cribs sound remains relatively loyal to previous releases such as 2009’s ‘Ignore The Ignorant‘, (on which Johnny Marr proudly joined the group) there is clear development in their writing. In particular there is a discernible focus on writing more memorable hooks – without sacrificing on sheer volume of course.

Opening with a howl of guitar, ‘Glitters Like Gold’ shrieks and growls to life with a primordial scream. Ryan Jarman’s distorted guitar lines underpin a Libertines-groove and deliberately swampy vocal to propel the song to its feedback-fuelled conclusion. It’s a strong start and provides a neat segue into the second track (and recent single) ‘Come On, Be A No-One’; a triumphant flight into Foo Fighters territory complete with roaring audience participation refrain. No doubt this will become a staple part of their live performances in years to come. The chorus lyric is also sure to fall into the ‘misheard lyric file’ for future generations to ponder.

Comparisons with Pixies, Nirvana and a touch of The Clash (particularly in the Albini recorded ‘Chi-Town‘) are apparent early on. Feedback – check. Distorted layered guitars – check. Solid compressed drums – check. Thunderous DI bass – check. Hollered vocal attack bending the melody – check. That’s not to suggest it’s always obvious, but their influences are certainly worn on their sleeves, and with knowing pride and confidence.

All the more a shock to the system then when an acoustic ballad appears in the shape of ‘I Should Have Helped’. It’s a direction the band should consider more often and in this instance also prepares you for something else – The Cribs’ most inspired moment. For the closing four tracks of the album The Cribs take hold of the production reigns themselves and create a rather ambitious medley. It is without question the most impressive and elaborate music they have ever produced.

Starting with a military beat and overdriven guitar arpeggios, ‘Stalagmites’ texture develops and builds before the introduction of a glockenspiel, yes, a glockenspiel! Then, just as the song starts to stabilise, a layer of modal guitar figures shatter the soundscape before drifting away into a mellotron-dream and segueing neatly into ‘Like A Gift Giver’.

There have been comparisons to the ending of The Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road‘ but this is not just because they are four songs that segue into one another. Just as The Beatles did, The Cribs use recurring motifs within these final four songs; for instance ‘Butterflies’ ends with the guitar and glockenspiel figures first heard in ‘Stalagmites’. It’s well conceived writing and truly deserves acknowledging.

It’s also good to see The Cribs sly humour at play. The closing number ‘Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast’ is clearly not your typical rock self-aggrandisement. If you listen closely you will hear Jarman’s tongue is firmly in cheek;

”We were victims of our own ideas.”

(Duncan McEwan)

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