The Cribs, In the Belly of the Brazen Bull
At this point the history of music, cross-pollination between the U.S. and the U.K. is nothing new; hell, it’s been going on pretty much since that first baker’s dozen of colonies split off from The Old Country way, way back when. Still, these days it feels a little surprising to hear a band from the other side of the ocean that sounds this influenced by American rock.
Listening to In the Belly of the Brazen Bull, you could be forgiven for guessing Yorkshire-bred trio The Cribs (who parted ways amicably with former member Johnny Marr in 2011) were from right here in the States. Specifically, they come off like a band of kids raised on a steady diet of early ’90s bands like Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, and The Posies, with the former sound dominating the rest. No, seriously; particularly on tracks like “Come On, Be A No-One,” “Uptight,” or the aptly-named “Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast,” the guitars are Blue Album huge, feeding back right when Rivers Cuomo’s undoubtedly would, and on quite a few of the tracks, they follow along with the sing-song-y vocals, the same way a lot of songs on Pinkerton did.
I don’t say this to disparage the band, mind you. They’ve grabbed hold of that furious, who-gives-a-fuck?, amps-to-10 approach to what are essentially pop songs, at their core, complete with ridiculously addictive melodies, and they’ve made it their own, buzzing and roaring along over a set of thoughtful, surprisingly soft-spoken songs that make you want to go right back around to the beginning once you’ve heard ‘em the first (and second, and third) time.
The only U.K. band that really comes close to Bull, to my mind, is The Subways (especially on “Jaded Youth” and the snarling “Chi-Town”), but even that band doesn’t play it as smart as The Cribs do here; the brothers Jarman (twins Gary and Ryan and little brother Ross) are less about rocking out and more about staring at their shoes while the guitars surge and hum, combining the Weezer-esque guitars and structures with a more dream-/jangle-pop feel.
Take “Confident Men,” for one, where the band sounds a bit like a less beered-up, more meditative Libertines, albeit with vocals that sound like Jon Auer, or “Pure O,” one of the best tracks on here, where the Jarmans blaze with a melancholy-yet-serene fire, heavy-lidded vocals drifting up high while the amps explode below. They get a little weirder in the middle, with the slow, staggering murk of “Back To The Bolthole” and the menacing, almost pAper chAse-ness of “Stalagmites,” but they keep coming back to those rumbling, overfuzzed guitars and rhythms that slip and drag at just the right places (see “Uptight” for proof).
It’s a little sad, really, because in the decade-plus since the ’90s died away, I’ve heard a small army of bands — mostly Americans — try to pull something like this off, to take that ’90s alternarock sound and bring it back to life (something that even Weezer, frankly, hasn’t been able to do). And each time, it’s been more or less a failure. Now, with In the Belly of the Brazen Bull, it seems all I really needed to do was give my record collection to some guys from Yorkshire and let them do it.