The party line for any guitar band getting into year or album six or seven is that time has tempered them, that their comfort level as a band, as songwriters, has matured to the point where the piss and vinegar of their early material has been shelved for confidence in quietude. It’s now year eleven for the Cribs, and maybe it’s because the band’s success has been one of those slowly building affairs that never seems to happen anymore, but the Cribs haven’t mellowed. In fact, there are moments where the band sounds more aggressive than ever. This makes In the Belly of the Brazen Bull, their latest release and fifth full-length, another quality entry into the trio’s continuing banner-carrying for the moniker of “indie rock.”
Indie rock actually used to have a sound associated with it, if you remember. It was idiosyncratic guitar pop that had hooks, but fractured hooks, ones you couldn’t have snuck onto any radio outside of a university unless some unlikely and usually inexplicable crossover happened. You could fill a book with a list of “Okay, so why did THAT indie band have a top 40 hit in the 90s and THAT one didn’t?” bands. Odds are, the Jarman brothers have listened to all of them and, even though its unfashionable, they’re still carrying their torch.
And carrying it well, it should be noted. If the underground music community’s embrace of synths, of hip-hop, of melting pot influences, has left you a bit cold; if you’ve worn out the grooves on your old records of earlier indie classics and are looking for something new, then Brazen Bull will warm you up. It’s not perfect, and it’s not going to replace Daydream Nation in your rotation any time soon, but the Dave Fridmann and Steve Albini-produced record invokes all of the right flavors over its 40-minute running time without trying to side-load anything anachronistic like kettle drums or 808s.
That insistence at still being kinetic, which is the defining characteristic of the opening salvo of “Glitters Like Gold,” “Come On, Be a No-One,” and “Jaded Youth,” is what makes Brazen Bull both an exciting new Cribs record and an exciting new indie rock record. If the Cribs had settled into their recliner stage after eleven years, then anything new from them would have passed with a similar aimless, laissez faire. But the opening guitars of “Glitters Like Gold” or the dissonant guitar lead of “Stalagmites” are thicker, harder, more serrated than the Cribs have ever been. It’s refreshing, and enough to carry your attention through weaker tracks like “Back to the Bolthole” or the unnecessary 77 seconds of “Like a Gift Giver.”
The Jarman brothers aren’t doing anything new here, but that’s a good thing. Any radical change of direction for the group at this point would have seemed half-baked at best, disingeuous at worst. And it’s a good thing too that the band still has the energy and potency of their Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever days, because without it such an ultimatley derivative record would have passed by silently in the night with nary a word. Instead, the Cribs show a dedication to their history, to their influences, to their craft on In the Belly of the Brazen Bull that’s commendable. If you’re over alt-rock, then Brazen Bull is going to do little to bring you around. But if you need a new guitar rock record, one that you can headbang to without irony, then the Cribs have delivered.