“It weren’t me best one, but who cares?” That throwaway snatch of conversation at the end of Be Safe, from The Cribs‘ superlative Men’s Needs, Woman’s Needs, Whatever album was met with a chuckle and approving mutter of “that’s the spirit” from guest vocalist Lee Ranaldo, but it also seems to sum up the Wakefield trio’s career since that high watermark. For Men’s Needs… was a truly great album – full of intelligent, thoughtful pop songs wrapped up in a fuzzy, scuzzy little package that just screamed attitude.
Since then, we’ve had two albums from the Jarman brothers, neither of which have really lived up to their 2007 masterpiece. Ignore The Ignorant (for which they were joined by Johnny Marr as an auxiliary member) was decent enough but lacked the raw edge that was so thrilling previously, while In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull had flashes of genius, but was a bit bloated and unfocused. That phrase kept coming to mind: it weren’t their best, but who cares?
Thankfully, For All My Sisters IS The Cribs at their best – so good in fact, that their sixth album could eclipse Men’s Needs… as the definitive Cribs album. There’s a fresh energy and swagger about the Jarmans now, helped in no small way by producer Ric Ocasek. Cribs albums have always been defined by their producer – including names such as Bernard Butler, Edwyn Collins and Alex Kapranos – and the former Cars vocalist has completely nailed exactly what it is that makes The Cribs so great.
That new vitality is evident from the opening ringing chords of Finally Free, and stays visible all through the album. There’s always been a great pop sensibility to The Cribs, and it’s very much in evident on For All My Sisters. The most obvious example is the gloriously catchy Different Angle, which could be the most accessible thing they’ve ever done, and tracks like Burning For No One and An Ivory Hand bury themselves into the brain and refuse to leave.
Yet as ever with The Cribs, there’s an abrasive edge to the album (although not as abrasive had the long rumoured sessions with Steve Albini seen the light of day) – Simple Story is an acoustic ballad sung by Ryan Jarman in a cracked, wobbly fashion which sounds like it was recorded at the bottom of the ocean, and sounds, for all the world, like it could be about a werewolf (“I’m howling at the moon just hoping someone understands….I disappear, show up a few days later with my foot in a trap”). At the other extreme, the guitar riffs on the likes of Summer Of Chances and Spring On Broadway are amongst the fiercest that the Jarmans have come up with yet.
Another way that The Cribs have distinguished themselves from other, more run of the mill, indie bands has been their snubbing of the odious ‘lad culture’ that seems to have found its way into the genre. This is, after all, a band who wrote a song criticising the Pigeon Detectives‘ ill-advised decision to hold wet T-shirt contests on stage, and who appeared on Sky’s football show Soccer AM to proudly boast they had no interest in the sport. On For All My Sisters, from the title onwards, the band’s feminist credentials are further displayed – it’s hard to imagine Catfish And The Bottlemen, for instance, sing “we’re not as straight as you want us to be” on the exhilarating Diamond Girl, or for any other band to be behind the epic, seven-minute closer Pink Snow, maybe the most ambitious song that The Cribs have yet recorded.
In a genre that feels happy to be rooted in mediocrity, this is an album to renew your faith in guitar music. This time around, it IS their best one, and we care. Now that really is the spirit.