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The Cribs
In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull Emily Mackay , May 11th, 2012 08:42

The Cribs have always sounded more (and more fun than) the sum of their influences. Though proselytes of righteous US indie, K Records and riot grrl, their northern tones and very English scrappiness kept them far from being a fanzine-sniffing lo-fi tribute act. Similarly, the tension between twin songwriters' Ryan and Gary Jarman's different approaches (Ryan, fast, furious raw and punky, Gary more measured and subtle and melodic) gave them a distinctive tension that raised them above bare-bones indie rock brawlers.

In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull is being hailed as a triumph of songwriting maturity for the band, who've endured some troubled times of late, with Ryan Jarman suffering from what sounds like a degree of mental burnout and a breakup with girlfriend Kate Nash. The songs here are certainly well-structured and melodic and thoughtful and all that, it's just that you can't help wonder if things haven't edged a bit too much towards the poles of both Gary and the plaid shirt brigade. With recording split between Dave Fridmann and Steve Albini, and mixing by Fridmann, In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull could hardly help come off a bit 90s alt.

Opener 'Glitters Like Gold' has a warm amble and a slightly serrated edge, but lacks the punchy energy of prime Cribs, and the vocals are low in the mix and muddied. There are many fine moments; singalong-snaring and gutsy single 'Come On Be A No-One' with its raw-throated up-and-at-em yowl of a chorus is solid Jarman action, while 'Confident Men' feels like more of a step forward, a rolling melody and tumbling toms, not sounding very Cribsy at all.

'Jaded Youth' exhibits a familiar buzz (if tempered with a worldly-wiseness far from the cockiness of 'The New Fellas') and a good snarly pumping chorus, in which Gary reflects "seems a long long time ago since I was looking for a piece of the action'. But still, for an album named after an ancient Greek torture device in which victims were placed inside a brass bull and a fire lit underneath, nothing really grabs you by the throat - it all feels a bit reined in, tethered.

After the in-your-face brio of 'Ignore The Ignorant', with Nick Launay's sharp production and the fascinating new dimension added by the interplay of bratty Jarman shredding and the fluid meanderings of guitar, it feels a bit safe.

'Back To The Bolthole' is warm and chugging, but the edges and the brothers' voices (which always added so much of the bite), feel a bit lost in layers. Is it holding them back to suggest The Cribs just sound better when they're a bit rawer? The four-song suite (you heard right, a suite) that closes the album, recorded with Albini, opens with the martial drums and roiling guitar of 'Stalagmites', which has a nastier, heftier feel to it, (despite the use of a xylophone).

The three songettes that follow, though, mellow out pretty fast into the soft Teenage Fanclub style harmonies of 'Like A Gift Giver' and the bright indie pop of 'Butterflies', and when they sing, finally on 'Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast', (which seems to be some sort of ironic apology for holding themselves back from selling out) "we were victims of our own ideas" you can't help but think they've got a point.

While in a way this record sums up everything the Cribs are about, it fails to foreground their most exciting aspects. Sorry to be bellyaching boys, but get the fire back in yours next time, rather than under the ox'.

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