In the Belly of the Brazen Bull
Few bands have as consistent an output as the Cribs, and the anticipation of each album brings a brief moment of suspense that this could be the card that collapses down the pack. This moment is very brief, and be under no illusions that one need fear this about fifth record ‘In the Belly of the Brazen Bull’. Gary, Ryan and Ross Jarman have returned to their impenetrably tight sibling unit, though not through easy times. Fergal Kinney celebrates one of our best bands.
The record largely reflects the state of flux in which it was recorded. The album was recorded in different sessions with two seperate producers (David Friddman and Steve Albini), and Ryan was in recovery from mental illness – whilst the departure of Johnny Marr brought about an unexpected change in circumstance and need for reflection within the group, and though it in parts suffers from the lack of cohesion that this brings, the highlights of the album are spawned from this turmoil. Indeed, it’s Ryan’s tracks from this period that provide the most memorable moments on the record – from the Nirvana influenced ‘Come On, Be a No-One’ to the slow burning swell of ‘Back to the Bolthole’. ‘Back to the Bolthole’ is lyrically one of the band’s finest hours, all darkness, claustrophobic isolation and introspection, and builds on the sonic experimentation last seen on ‘City of Bugs’. Another more mid-tempo track on ‘In the Belly of the Brazen Bull’ is ‘I Should Have Helped’, seeing Gary hit the high notes in a lo-fi, acoustic song inspired by the suicide of a prominent fan of the band.
The influence of producer Steve Albini, the legendary Pixies and Nirvana engineer, is heavy in the monster of ‘Chi-Town’, a cathartic release from Ryan in the form of an infectious punk stomp. The pop sensibilities that have underpinned much of their work inform the excellent opener and next single ‘Glitters Like Gold’, with themes of inadequacy and confusion that resonate through other album tracks such as ‘Confident Men’, bemoaning ‘confident men and their unwelcome friends’ and crippling shyness (‘I could have kissed you but the moon was there’). The final tracks of the album are loosely assembled as a rock opera of sorts, but is less the Who’s ‘Tommy’ and more the Beatles’ Abbey Road medley – which is fitting given that these tracks were recorded at Abbey Road. The luscious ‘Like a Gift Giver’ and ‘Butterflies’ burst into the final part of this arrangment, ‘Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast’; a rousing celebration and confession of everything that has made the Cribs great over the last five years:
‘Sorry that it’s taken years,
We were victims of our own ideals,
But I’d rather be tied to myself than to anyone else’
‘In the Belly of the Brazen Bull’ is a marked return to the lo-fi sensibilities that were absent on their last two records, and is generally all the better for it. Whilst 2009’s ‘Ignore the Ignorant’ with Johnny Marr was as excellent as any of their records, it’s clear that in regrouping the Jarman brothers have regained something that was lost somewhere along the way, though perhaps this momentum doesn’t sustain throughout the album’s 14 tracks. The Cribs have delivered their darkest, most achingly personal record yet, and it’s as enthralling and exciting as ever.