‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’ (Wichita Recordings)
On the back cover of their debut album, The Cribs are photographed slumped before a wall wearing Converse, leather jackets and detached expressions. They appear cocksure, but Ryan, Gary and Ross look like they’d have laughed their pale faces off at the idea that, eight years later, they’d be releasing their fifth album having recently ushered Johnny Marr through the exit door.
In the build up to this release, they’ve admitted a desire to rekindle their punk spirit; however, anyone concerned that The Cribs are on the verge of a mid-life crisis can relax – ‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’ is honest, sweaty and delirious.
From the off, signs of a Jarman rejuvenation are good. Clattering opener ‘Glitters Like Gold’ – with guitars racing from grizzly confusion to needling precision – deserves comparisons with ‘The New Fellas’; the favoured album judging yardstick among hardened Cribs fans. Next, ‘Come On Be A No One’ jostles into frame – like a hard shove in a mosh pit, its punishing mid-sequence leaves you pleasantly winded – and ‘Jaded Youth’ and ‘Anna’ complete a brilliant introduction; the college-rock bite of the former providing the record’s most instantaneously vintage Cribs moment, whilst Gary’s warm vocals render ‘Anna’ an uncharacteristically cuddly interlude.
Thus far, The Cribs are indulging the snotty, band-practice-in-a-garage vim that characterised their early days. But years of development and work with producers from Edwyn Collins to Steve Albini to Dave Fridmann provoke growth that no amount of stubbornness can dilute. Unsurprisingly, then, ‘Confident Men’ and ‘Uptight’ betray the stately sophistication that has latterly bled into their sound.
Then comes ‘Chi-Town’, a rampant, throat-shredding rush of a song that marks the best distillation of the Jarmans’ shaggy abandon since ‘Hey Scenesters’. How to follow that? Simple: close the album with a mini-suite of bristling emotion; beginning with a drunken chant-along (‘Pure O’) and concluding with a four-tracks-in-one outro that shimmers with contemplative 80s indie-pop references (the brilliantly-titled ‘Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast’)
With ‘In The Belly…’ The Cribs have taken the bloody-lipped, snogging-in sixth-form spirit of that old cover photograph and imbued it with every ounce of maturity and skill they’ve accumulated since. In doing so, they’ve made their most exciting album yet.