Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Cribs - "For All My Sisters"

For All My Sisters, the sixth album from The Cribs, represents a beginning of sorts for Wakefield’s finest sons. It’s their first album since releasing the career spanning ‘best of’ comp Payola in 2013, and their first since leaving the relatively cosy confines of indie label Wichita.

Just look at the cover. A fresh start. The last time we saw the three Jarman brothers together on the front of a Cribs record was a whole decade ago, acting out under the banner of The New Fellas. In retrospect, it was probably that album (‘Martell’ in particular) which saw them unfairly lumped in with all those awful mid-2000s landfill indie bands. The Cribs were always better than that, fusing a hardcore ethic with serious songwriting chops, the punk and pop aspects of their dichotomy becoming increasingly evident with each release.

Now, all the signs seem to point towards a second act for one of Britain’s most underrated bands. They might not even be saddled with that tiresome tagline for much longer – For All My Sisters is billed as their ‘pop’ album, an ambition seemingly in line with their new major label status. To this end, Cars frontman Ric Ocasek was enlisted as producer, and his influence can be felt all over the record, from the Weezer-cribbing ‘An Ivory Hand’ to the shimmering guitars of ‘Summer of Chances’. Really though, Ocasek’s changes aren’t all that drastic. For all the sparkle and polish he brings, there’s still rawness here. Sometimes these sides collide to great effect, as the sludgy basement chorus of ‘Mr. Wrong’ is brightened up with fairground synths.

Lyrically it’s still firmly a Cribs album, concerned with love, loss and introspection. The band has spoken about wanting to make something “unabashed, without all that baggage and self-critique”. Indeed, the main way that it scans as a ‘pop’ album is in its confidence and enthusiasm, and a willingness to fully commit to ideas. Well, that, and a handful of absolute top-drawer singles. ‘Different Angle’ is classic Cribs, with an insistent riff that sounds like a throwback to their Johnny Marr era. The chorus promises greatness but falls just short through repetition. ‘Burning for No One’ is more of a departure, a taut, danceable song with spiky new-wave guitars and the emotional honesty that we’ve come to expect from the band.

It’s not just the singles that do the heavy lifting – ‘Finally Free’ is a theatrical opener that Gary wrote in hospital, desperate to get out in time to meet a recording date. ‘Summer of Chances’ has the album’s best chorus, with Ryan pushing his vocal range more than ever before, and glossy production reminiscent of Ocasek’s work with Guided By Voices.

As with the previous album, the main problem is the filler material. ‘Pacific Time’ is the only real misstep, dialling down the tempo and aiming to build gradually but not doing anything interesting with it. The largely acoustic ‘Simple Story’ falls after an amazing opening run and almost kills the momentum stone dead. It’s pretty good in its own right though, with a palpable sadness and desperation communicated through distant drum thuds and weird spaghetti western synths. It speaks volumes to the album’s strength that this is one of its weakest songs.

Closing track ‘Pink Snow’ eradicates any remaining notions of For All My Sisters as a pop album. It’s a slow burning seven-minute monolith in the vein of ‘City of Bugs’, and possibly the finest song this band has ever released. Apparently some early versions stretched to fifteen minutes, but this recording is perfectly structured. It opens with delicate guitar figures before shifting to full-on Sonic Youth noise assault. Ryan’s lyrics, which also give us the album’s title, are about bravery and connection, and the importance of the female relationships in his life. It’s honestly a real joy to hear the band reaching like this and succeeding so absolutely.

A bunch of the songs here should quickly cement themselves as setlist staples. For a band on their sixth album, that’s usually more than can be reasonably expected. But For All My Sisters is a real achievement, one that easily stands with their best work. Cribs Mk. II are off to a flying start.

Highlights: Burning for No One; An Ivory Hand; Summer of Chances; Pink Snow

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