While casual listeners of The Cribs might suggest that the band have always stuck with the same indie rock sound, those with a closer affection to the brothers Jarman will know this to be not quite true. Fairly subtle changes they may be between records, but the tweaks are most certainly significant ones for those who care. And with all the media build-up to the release of this, their fifth full-length, hinting at a return to their roots, lots of Cribs fans could be getting quite excited.
Let’s clear something up: this is not a return to their roots. Perhaps the more spontaneous and immediate methods of writing and recording might share similarities with 2004’s self-titled debut, and maybe they feel re-invigorated following a short break away from band duties. But, musically, ‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’ shares a lot more in common with ‘Ignore the Ignorant’ – the band’s love-it-or-hate-it latest record – than many will be expecting.
This isn’t all that surprising. Eight years have passed since they released their first album and twelve since they formed. The brothers are writing these songs in their late twenties and early thirties having spent virtually all of their adult life ‘in’ the music ‘business’. But neither is this necessarily a bad thing. Some of the best songs on this album – which are, as it happens, also some of the best songs that they’ve ever written – sound nothing like ‘You & I’, nor ‘Mirror Kisses’, or even ‘Men’s Needs’.
‘Glitters Like Gold’ opens the record strongly, greeting us with 20 seconds of crashing drums and screeching guitar noise before bursting into pleasing vocal melodies and tuneful guitar. ‘Come On Be A No-One’ is up next: another in-your-face slab of loud and power-packed indie rock, and very much an enjoyable one too. ‘Anna’, track four, is also very good – slightly more house-trained but far from tame, it’s gripping and catchy as hell. Ignoring ‘Jaded Youth’, which edges worryingly close to what one might consider ‘dad-rock’ with its big riffs and lyrics like ‘If I went back to school, would I be cool?’, the first four tracks on ‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’ forecast a very strong album indeed.
And the final four tracks are even better. Essentially one 10-minute epic split into four bite-size chunks; it’s brand new territory for the Jarmans and boy does it pay off. ‘Stalagmites’ is the lengthiest of the bunch, splitting time between militaristic snare roles with distorted spoken word vocals and noisy guitar work accompanied by Cribs-like chants – it’s all-over-the-shop goodness. ‘Like A Gift Giver’, next, is barely a minute in length, but that’s sufficient time for the gentle guitar work and soft vocals to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, while song three (‘Butterflies’) is also excellent. ‘Sorry that it’s taken years / We were victims of our own ideals,’ sing the Jarmans on closer ‘Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast’ – but apologies are not necessary: these four songs alone are well worth a few years in waiting.
It’s somewhere in between these first four and last four that things go a bit weary, however. While ‘I Should Have Helped’ – which sees Ryan taking centre stage with acoustic guitar, singing softly, sincerely and beautifully – is subtle and modest, other mid-album tracks come across a little brash or even, dare I say it, cheesy. ‘Chi-Town’, ‘Confident Men’, ‘Pure-O’ : none of these are bad songs, but they’re far from The Cribs at their finest.
Back to their scrappy, atonal, lo-fi sound of the band’s early days it mightn’t be, ‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’ is still a good album which sees The Cribs exploring new sounds and old – stumbling upon some truly excellent songs in the process.
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