How The Cribs overcame personal hell to produce a great indie rock return
Night Network is The Cribs eighth studio album but its one that almost never saw the light of day. A look at why they are the quintessential British indie cult band, the difficulties they've had to overcome and a verdict on the new album.
The Cribs were always one of the those band's that passed me by in the 2000s. Despite passively liking a couple of their songs, I stubbornly refused to fully get into them and the reason for that was really, really petty.
You know that feeling when so many people you know are obsessed with something that you feel too late to the party to share that enthusiasm? Well, that's what happened with this band back in 2005. They didn't quite feel like my band and I went out my way to not give them a chance.
Truth be told I used to be stubborn when it comes to music and - like many other wannabe indie music snobs - I wanted to be the one finding new music, not the one late to the scene! Recently I've had a change of heart. My girlfriend is one of those said fans and as a birthday treat, I bought her tickets to see them next year. With a new album released, it felt rude not to see what I'd been missing out on...
The definitive indie cult band
The Cribs are probably the definitive UK indie cult band, one with an enthusiastic fanbase but a band who never quite made the jump into the mainstream like Franz Ferdinand or Arctic Monkeys. Perhaps they were never supposed to be a band for the masses, though their punk energy and unpolished wit does resonate with a lot of people.
The Wakefield trio (which consist of brothers Gary, Ryan and Ross Jarman) released their self-titled debut in 2004 and a year later; The New Fellas, which is arguably the highpoint of their career. The latter opens with 'Hey Scenesters', a track poking fun at the noughties kids clinging onto the indie rock genre to make themselves look cool. It's a song still regarded as one of the greatest British indie rock tracks of all time, an anthem against the growing fakeness creeping into the genre.
The closest the band got to mainstream success was in 2007, with two brilliant garage rock tracks - 'Don't You Wanna Be Relevant?' and 'Man's Needs' - being all over the indie rock stations and NME at the time, even gaining airplay on Radio 1. As the British indie scene of the noughties slowly crept back into the underground, The Cribs slaved on. In 2008 (until 2011) The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr gave them a new lease of life and they followed this with another three albums in the 2010s.
In 2017 they released their seventh album, 24-7 Rock Star Shit - which had mixed ratings - but soon everything was about to change.
A betrayal to overcome
To say the Jarman brothers have had a tough time of it of late would an understatement. After their 2017 album release, they split from their management company, deciding instead to manage themselves. What could possibly go wrong?
To the band's horror, they learned that the transfer of their entire catalogue wasn't going to be the easy one they'd expected. Instead, it had been purchased by Universal without their knowledge. Part of the band's appeal is their DIY indie attitude and they'd spent their entire career rejecting big-money offers from major labels to stay true to their independent roots. Now their music was owned by such a company. What a disaster.
In 2005, the band turned down of "an offensive amount of money" from Interscope Records, but little did they know they would later be betrayed by their own management. Bassist and singer Gary Jarman gave his thoughts on the matter to Mark Beaumont in the NME.
"When you find out however many years later that your music ended up with Universal anyway, we might as well have done that deal...it's the work of three brothers from a small town. Why the f*** is it owned by some f****** big shot in Beverly Hills?"
Over the next 18 months, legal battles ensued, the brothers fighting for control of their music against major label lawyers. The battle looked like it would take hold of the band, leaving them broke with their legacy in tatters. They obsessively fought on, continuing to argue their case. Believing they were getting nowhere, retiral came to mind more than once.
Then Dave Grohl happened. The Cribs supported Foo Fighters in June 2018 in Manchester and the wind began to change direction. Over backstage drinks, they told the Foos frontman about their plight and he offered some advice to them, kindly offering them the use of his private LA studio, Studio 606. The Foo Fighters frontman encouraged them to just make a new record to escape the madness and let their music do the talking. It's soon turned out to be the best decision they could've made.
Entirely self-produced, the album was finished in two weeks and - before long - their luck suddenly changed. They eventually won their battle for control of their music again and were now able to release new music.
Night Network; the verdict
On first listen to The Cribs' latest album, I was getting all nostalgic for the mid-noughties (I need little excuse to do so...). It was a great time, upbeat, rock n' roll bands in abundance and it soundtracked my growth to adulthood. Though, even as an avid NME reader (of which The Cribs featured regularly), the Wakefield band were one I never fully explored. Now, 15 years later, I'm finally starting to get onboard.
Night Network opens with 'Goodbye' and from first glance its a pretty alarming song title choice to start with. Fear not, however, this is more an F-You to the hard times they've encountered recently rather than a signal of retiring intent.
Over an unexpected slow tempo and Beach Boy-inspired vocal harmonies, this is a middle finger to their old management who had let the band down ("Goodbye to the ones I guess we never knew at all / goodbye to the ones who built their silence into the walls"). Drawing a line under the past, only now can they move on.
Here they move on to the second track, 'Running Into You' and there's a familiar post-punk Cribs feel to it. As the drums crash and the fuzzy guitars enter together with Ryan's unpolished vocals, it has a comforting familiarity to it. Sometimes that's exactly what you need in a year like this one. It's an indie-rock banger, easily one of the highlights over the 43 minute record through its energy and addictive hook ("They're always running, they're always running into you").
'Never Thought I'd Feel Again' opens with an "ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, oh, oh, oh" vocals, sounding exactly like something from 2005's The New Fellas. Like 'Running Into You', it's a punky, toe-tapper and one that I can't wait to see them perform live on next years tour (fingers crossed...).
Despite the consistent (and brilliant) post-punk sound on tracks like 'Siren Sing-Along' and 'In the Neon Night', the band do offer some variety. As mentioned, thoughtful opener 'Goodbye' is the most diverse of the tracks, and I was also feeling 'The Weather Speaks Your Name' for it's grungier guitar riff and darker, more intense sound. 'I Don't Know Who I Am' features Sonic Youth's Lee Randaldo, who provides a more atmospheric, echoey guitar line which sticks with you long after the track has ended.
Ok, so not every track hits the mark; songs like 'She's My Style', 'Screaming in Suburbia' and 'Deep Infatuation' did little for me. But when it comes to indie rock in 2020, I'm a forgiving critic. The reason for that is the occasional brilliance that surrounds the weaker tracks.
Like a lot of their work, The Cribs have a particular style and they don't stray far from that. If authentic and energetic post-punk is your thing, you'll enjoy this record from start to finish. Gary and Ryan Jarman may have both just turned 40 (though, still look exactly how they did 15 years ago...) but they're still able to mix it with the best of them. This ain't no retiral party just yet!
The Cribs have had a hellish time over the past couple of years, finding therapy in writing a new album and we should be grateful they did. Sometimes familiarity is what you need in a year as chaotic as this one.