London Student

24/7 Rock Star Shit – The Cribs: ‘pop songs in grunge armour-plating’

The Cribs formed in their home of Wakefield in 2001, with identical twins Ryan and Gary Jarman on guitar and bass respectively, and younger brother Ross on drums. The band of brothers made it during the era of indie landfill in 2006/7 with tracks so catchy that no-one noticed they were taking the piss out of virtually every other band on the scene. ‘Hey Scenesters!’ baited those who’d jumped on the indie bandwagon just because it was becoming popular. ‘Our Bovine Public’ excoriated them further (“You’d never exist if you wasn’t generic”), and ‘Mirror Kissers’ furiously told “the hipster type […] you aren’t allowed to say anything”. Their biggest hit though was ‘Men’s Needs’, a feminist anthem which punctured the UK Top 20 at the height of its flirtation with lad-rock madness.

But they were never just aggressive ideologues – this confrontational approach worked because a) they were right; b) they were clearly nice, sincere guys in a scene of obnoxious posers; and c) their tunes were so good. They were the real thing in a time when looking like the real thing seemed to matter so much more than being it, winning them heaps of fans and critical acclaim that has long outlasted those times.

And they really are good: so good that Johnny Marr joined them for an album; so good that Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo wanted to collaborate with them on a track (the great ‘Be Safe’); so good that Steve Albini, to whom Kurt Cobain turned to produce Nirvana’s anti-mainstream masterpiece In Utero, produced an album with them (In The Belly of the Brazen Bull, 2012) and then came back for more – giving us 24/7 Rock Star Shit.

And it’s good as well. It’s easily the heaviest record The Cribs have ever done. It’s full of guitars doused with distortion and monumental drums. They haven’t gone metal – not by a long shot – but listen out of context to the guttural riff of ‘In Your Palace’, or screaming vocal on ‘Year of Hate’ (hello 2016) and you might get the wrong idea. This explosive heaviness is a new way to express and channel their passion. It’s rare to find a band being more visceral and raucous than ever on their seventh album – never have they sounded more desperate to get their message across.

What is that message? The answer to that question is also something of a denouement for the title. Their message is: this is us. Just like their deep commitment to being a principled anti-commercial indie band, and just like their broad Yorkshire accents when singing, The Cribs know you may scoff at their title, but it’s what you’re going to get with The Cribs, because that’s who they are. They’re never going to compromise their principles because they sincerely believe in them, and they’re never going to hide their accents because they’re theirs. They’re always going to represent their true selves even if other people might guffaw, because that’s what they do – and there’s no bolder demonstration of that than calling your album 24/7 Rock Star Shit when you make rock music for a living. They embody this honesty by returning to their punk-rock roots, working with one of the most un-adulterating producers in the business and only booking 5 days to cut the record.

They’ve largely replaced riffs with vocal melodies as the main point of interest since Johnny Marr left, and this is exemplified on 24/7…. Listen to how Gary throws his voice around the corners on ‘In Your Palace’ and ‘Rainbow Ridge’, and the way Ryan delivers all the melodic invention on ‘What Have You Done for Me?’. It’s a trick they’ve done their whole career: matching sweet melodies with abrasive textures. It creates something that has the delicious aggression of grunge but without the overwrought masculinity of hard-rock. The strength of these infectious melodies, once they’ve had a few rotations to get in your head, is undeniable. These are pop songs in grunge armour-plating.

The Cribs also bring only their second real acoustic number ever with ‘Sticks Not Twigs’, and unprecedentedly dabble in electronic textures on ‘Dead at the Wheel’. But what you listen to The Cribs for is visceral guitar rock, and they bring that in abundance on every single other track. The spectre of Nirvana looms large, and while this album might not go down in history next to Nevermind or In Utero, as far as British indie music goes in the 2010s, it doesn’t get much better than this. There’s enough diversity to keep your interest, enough politics to keep it relevant, and so much vocal-chord-fraying passion that you might need a lie down afterwards.

They’re clever enough to know they shouldn’t think through what they’re doing too much, but also to identify and avoid the things which can make rock music dull, like self-importance, hyper-masculinity, and indulgence, and it’s this delicate handling of their own intelligence that is key to The Cribs’ success. Keeping it real might not mean much to everyone, but if you think it does, then 24/7 Rock Star Shit is the album for you – it’s the sound of a band following only their instincts and their heroes.

8/10

 

Featured image: Evening Standard.

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