I don’t know what to think about rock music right now. It’s wandering. There are interesting things happening in its indie-based sub-genres: the hippy freak-outs of Panda Bear; the fuzzy explosions of No Age; the lucid paranoia of Deerhunter. In terms of semi-mainstream rock, though, it’s a weird time. Consider the following:
· Every band, ever, is reuniting this year.
· Kanye West is more of a rock star than anyone making rock music right now.
· Chinese Democracy is the Keyser Soze of your post-adolescence. It never existed.
· I liked the last Killers album, but I’m a moron.
· It feels like forever since we talked about how great Franz Ferdinand was, but it’s only been about two years.
Hang onto that last one. Alex Kapranos, Franz Ferdinand’s lead singer, produced the U.K.-based Cribs’ third album, Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever. He’s tightened and buffed the Cribs’ gleefully drunken rant-alongs, making a record that’s infinitely more accessible than the band’s self-titled debut or 2005’s The New Fellas.
The Cribs — a trio made up of brothers Ryan, Gary and Ross Jarman — seem to be getting it, too. Where songs used to grab for Stooge-ish garage knock-offs, they’re now spiky exercises in post-punk pop. Exacting riffs, mechanizing drums, raw vocals, cockney swagger — the ingredients are all here, from the wonderfully catchy “Men’s Needs” and “Moving Pictures” (both singles) to the more brazen “Women’s Needs” and “I’ve Tried Everything” and the indirect “Be Safe,” a Sonic Youth moment (featuring Lee Ranaldo, actually) with spoken-word verses that are washed out by raining choruses. There’s even an acoustic closer (“Shoot the Poets”), just for the sake of humility.
So the Cribs score a victory, any way the pie is sliced. This record improves on the band’s earlier work and might even score them a stateside breakthrough. But let’s not kid ourselves: Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever and the Cribs’ see-through act are altogether boring. The Cribs sound like the Strokes. They sound like Kings of Leon. They sound like Franz Ferdinand. But they don’t sound like the best parts of these bands spliced into something personal and fantastically unique; they sound like the most obvious parts dulled down to auto-piloting. They sound like they’re wandering.
Writing in the June 2007 issue of Spin, David Browne lamented the state of rock, asking why today’s rock stars are as nameless and faceless as your neighborhood barista (really — I failed the quiz that asks you to differentiate between bartenders and the lead singers of some current rock bands). But I don’t know, dude. It could, just maybe, have something to do with the music.