ALBUM REVIEW: The Cribs – Night Network (Sonic Blew/PIAS)
After three years in the wilderness, unable to record or tour due to legal wrangles after changing their long-time management, the brothers Jarman are back with their eighth album, on their own label, and sounding as good as ever.
Formed in Wakefield in 2002, The Cribs were part of the UK’s mid ’00s avalanche of guitar-toting indie bands, but always stood slightly apart from the rest, unafraid to plough their own furrow, and becoming a hugely popular cult band in the process. Johnny Marr, legendary guitarist with The Smiths, even joined them for a while, so they must have been doing something right.
While they’ll always be rooted in West Yorkshire, they’re spread all over the place nowadays. Gary (bass and vocals) lives in Portland, Oregon, his twin Ryan (guitar and vocals) in Queens, New York, with only younger brother Ross (drums) still a resident of WF1.
When they gathered in the UK for a family Christmas (shouldn’t that be Cribs-mas?) in December 2018, they began working on songs in Ross’s garage, and found the old creative juices flowing in the same way they did nearly half a lifetime ago.
The songs came together fast, so they contacted the Foo Fighters, who they’d supported in the summer of 2018, and took them up on an offer of using their LA studio to record them.
This is the first album self-produced by the band. And though they’ve worked with the likes of Edwyn Collins, Alex Kapranos, Nick Launay, Dave Fridmann, Rik Okasek and Steve Albini, no one knows what The Cribs sound like better than the band themselves.
Happily, it’s not an album full of tales of woe about the record industry. That’s dealt with on opening track Goodbye, which draws a line under the past in a slice of melancholic indie-pop.
Other bands might have been tempted to use it as a gentle closer, but in The Cribs’ hands it’s a big two fingers to the past, and when their trademark slightly dissonant guitar kicks in two-thirds the way through, you know they’re back.
From then on, it’s an album full of bangers, with second track Running Into You taking us back to the sort of exultant songs they were making at their New Fellas/Men’s Needs peak.
Night Network is as fresh-sounding and vital as anything they’ve ever done. While previous album 24/7 Rock Star Shit was a return to the lo-fi sound they used to make, here they rediscover their knack of writing a killer tune.
Make no mistake, this is a band who make an art form out of bittersweet melodies, painfully honest lyrics and the sort of riffs on songs like Screaming In Suburbia which you can lose yourself in for days.
Under The Bus Station Clock is right up there with their best love songs from the past, while the huge distorted guitars of The Weather Speaks Your Name are like they’ve never been away.
She’s My Style is a standout track in an album full of good songs, with swaggering guitar, nailed on drums and understated bass which underpins everything. A Cribs classic in the making once they get the chance to play these songs live.
A familiar friend lends a hand, too – ex-Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo, whose spoken word verses on 2007 track Be Safe helped elevate it to anthem status among Cribs fans. Here, he adds sheets of white noise to I Don’t Know Who I Am, with a few backing vocals thrown in too.
In short, Night Network sees them roll back the years, and while their last four albums have made the UK Top 10, as a long-time Cribs fan I’d say this one is better than them all. In fact, it’s right up there with their very best. 9/10.