Band of the Day

2015.05.29

The Cribs

Breaking away from punk rock guilt to prove that "pop" isn't a dirty word
Dancing on the screen, I still see you as the star power you used to have.
lyrics from Burning For No One

“Pop” isn’t a dirty word, it’s just taken the Cribs a little longer to realize it. “We’ve always had a little punk rock guilt,” explains the band’s singer/guitarist, Ryan Jarman. “Whenever we’ve written something that’s had an overtly pop feel, we’ve always felt like we needed to balance it with something noisy.”

Cast an eye (or an ear) back over the trio’s back catalogue, and it’s not hard to understand what he means. When Ryan and his siblings Gary (bass) and Ross (drums) first emerged from Wakefield, England with their self-titled debut (2004) and the follow-up “The New Fellas” (2005), both brimmed with scrappy punk and youthful exasperation. They sounded like a band at war with themselves, but underneath that hubbub was a clutch of perfect pop songs. Even with the more obvious, radio-friendly sheen of “Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever” (2007), the Cribs still sought equilibrium through dissonance with tracks like “Be Safe,” which also featured Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo spitting bile. And when the Johnny Marr-assisted “Ignore The Ignorant” (2009) added a further level of panache, the band swiftly and pointedly got back-to-basics with the dense and turbulent “In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull” (2012).

But on “For All My Sisters,” that pendulum has now swung back to pop – and the brothers are keen to hold it there. “We wanted to make something that embraced our pop side,” continues Ryan, and the songs on this album feel less like an embrace, and more like a bear hug. Having drawn a line under the first phase of their career with 2013’s “Payola” compilation, “For All My Sisters” is the album they’ve always threatened to make; sleek, accomplished, concise, and packed to the brim with unadulterated melodies. Musically speaking at least, it’s a guilt free zone.

After early writing sessions in Portland, Oregon (Gary’s adopted hometown), the Cribs decamped to New York’s Magic Shop studio in the autumn of 2014, with Ric Ocasek chosen to helm productions duties. “We've already worked with Steve Albini and Dave Fridmann, so he’s the last name on our dream producers list,” says Ryan. As frontman of the Cars, he also knows how to spot a good pop song. “When we played him the songs, he didn’t want to change anything,” remembers Gary. “He said that he thought they were all hits, which was really flattering and let us know that we had definitely found the right guy!”

And he was right. “For All My Sisters” feels like an onslaught of hooks, from the anthemic chorus at the core of “Different Angle” to the geek-rock fizz that powers “An Ivory Hand.” But as ever, the music only tells half the story. Just because they sound so assured as a band, doesn’t necessarily mean they feel that way as people. Scratch the surface and you’ll find Ryan and Gary wrestling with the problems and contradictions of adulthood. Being in a band is a great way of extending your adolescence, but even that has to end at some point. “You’re always avoiding that responsibility,” admits Ryan. “You want to stay in that naïve world you’ve created for yourself as long as possible.”

The rootless life Ryan lived during the first era of the Cribs has come to an end. He now lives in New York with a long term partner and by his own admission, is in a much better headspace than he has been for years. But instead of reveling in that security, it’s driving a different sense of apprehension. “It’s scary to give up the thought that every thing could go horribly wrong at any moment. Without that threat in your life, there’s something huge missing.” As someone who spent most of his 20s in a state of self-loathing that fuelled some of the Cribs’ best moments, it’s not surprising to hear Ryan sounding so pensive when he sings “gonna have to be a man some day” on the sublime and introspective “Simple Story.”
 “There’s a misconception that we’re a self-confident band,” adds Gary. “Self-doubt and self-critique are still things that seem to come through. I guess you could call that inspiration, but I'm not concerned or embarrassed about that anymore. It's preferable to ending up just being a party band, or a dour political band. We're more into escapism. On this album, alot of my lyrics are like love songs to feelings that I’ve had in the past.” It’s something that becomes apparent on the ode to aimlessness that is “Spring On Broadway” or through the unarticulated desire that runs through “Burning For No One.”

The inner-conflict is still there and even though the Cribs don’t employ noise out of guilt on “For All My Sisters,” it still comes naturally on the album’s crowning moment. “Pink Snow” is a track that has been brewing for three years; it was one of the first ideas the brothers conceived at initial writing sessions, and the last to be finished before they headed into the studio. Every personal and musical contradiction erupts at once into a seven-minute epic of power and beauty, frustration and optimism, assertiveness and doubt. It might also be the best song that the Cribs have ever written. “We always had high hopes for that one,” admits Ryan, and it’s possible they may have exceeded them.

Growing up does not (and should not) automatically equal contentment and “For All My Sisters” encapsulates that in the most effective and striking manner yet heard in the band’s history. Their inner-war has passed but the future is still uncertain. Come what may, the Cribs promise that if nothing else, they’ll try and be brave for you.