Formed in 2008 and named after a part of Sheffield where founding members Daniel Hopewell and now ex-member Alex Saunders met, The Crookes – or the “Kings of Romance” as BBC DJ Steve Lamacq once heralded them – return with their third long player, the first since 2011’s Chasing After Ghosts, after an isolated stint in north Italy’s mountain region.
The isolation was intentional in order to eliminate distractions, and it couldn’t have been much more extreme, the recording sessions taking place in a tiny church in a field where there were no telephone lines, no internet, not even any mains gas. As a result, lyricist/guitarist Hopewell has claimed that this concentrated focus has helped create the band’s “greatest collection of songs”.
Opening track and lead single Play Dumb certainly supports this. Built around a catchy, instantly memorable guitar riff, it’s a killer tune. The accompanying video will raise a few eyebrows as singer/bassist George Waite undergoes a considerable change in appearance, resulting in an altogether rather fetching drag look. There’s a lot of deep thinking within The Crookes’ output and this is no exception, the underlying message relaying their anti-music industry stance that often pushes bands in directions they dislike.
Although there’s an undeniable whiff of major influence The Smiths in the overall jangling guitar sound, it’s more of a post-punk meets Edwyn Collins’ Orange Juice feel to the music throughout, but the next two tracks move more towards territory occupied by Sheffield counterparts Arctic Monkeys. Firstly, Don’t Put Your Faith In Me is one of several tracks to emit the main theme of the album – that of outsiders – and the chiming guitars and shuffling percussion of Echolalia (repeating words spoken by another) are a delight.
Another Sheffielder, Jarvis Cocker, once featured the band on his BBC 6music show, and there are similarities to Pulp with the faster Before The Night Falls, prominent electric guitar once more forming the basis of a raucous kitchen sink drama. A moment of melancholy then arrives via Holy Innocents, a sparse, much slower piano driven number that arrives like a silent calm in the midst of a storm.
The pumping beat of Outsiders marries with glistening, echo laden melodic guitars for a poppier effort as Waite croons “I’ve been waiting for something to happen” but in all honesty there’s plenty happening constantly. When You’re Fragile is another melodic highlight as is the enjoyably bouncy Marcy that portrays the band’s ability to carve consistently entertaining guitar melodies.
The slower Howl is built around another guitar riff and borders on the epic before the title track closes the album in tremendous fashion. A twanging bass and driving percussion accompany racing, shimmering guitars that die away before building up again for a climax, Hopewell describing this element of lonerism being like “the madman standing on his soapbox”, waffling away in an insane manner.
A £20,000 grant was recently awarded to the band during the Brits, one of 14 artists to be given a welcome financial boost via the Music Export Growth Scheme, whereby independent music companies are given a helping hand with the promotion of their artists; the band are set to invest the windfall in building on their already growing American following. But if albums continue to impress in the same manner as Soapbox then it’s likely to be the only helping hand the hardworking, constantly touring quartet will need.