It's quite a career move to get guitarist extraordinaire Johnny Marr, co-architect of the Smiths, to join your band. But it's the smart move that's finally getting the Cribs some notoriety in this country. Immensely popular in their native UK, the band is perhaps the least-known of the last great wave of post-Britpop groups such as the Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs and the Kooks. Some may accuse the Cribs of attaching themselves to famous names — a Franz Ferdinand member produced their last album, after all, and this one's produced by postpunk legend Nick Launay of Nick Cave, Gang of Four, Public Image and Lou Reed fame. But Marr, a fan of the much younger British trio, actually requested to join the group, made up of the three Jarman brothers — twins Ryan and Gary on guitar, bass and shared lead vocals, along with younger sibling, Russ, on drums.
Naturally, Marr's guitar slinging and songwriting chops add a lot to the brothers' earlier Replacements and Britpop-influenced pop-punk blend. "We Were Aborted" kicks things off with a full-on anthemic British sound, one that's as old as the Kinks and as recent as the aforementioned Libertines. The weakest material comes when they tread a little too close to, um, a Smiths sound for comfort (the vocals on "We Share the Same Skies" are downright Morrissey-esque). And even though the album's title is smart advice in these post-Bush times, their lyrics never approach a Westerberg level (they rhyme "masturbation" with "smear on half the nation"), although the Replacements influence remains strong on a band that's been known to frequently cover that American group's "Bastards of Young," even releasing it as a single B-side.
But when they go for pure melody and hooks, sans all Morrissey allusions, as they do midway through the album on "Hari Kari" and the title track, it makes for some great listening. In fact, the album really kicks in midpoint and never lets up, delivering tuneful moments that are worthy of Paul Weller and mid-period Jam at their best. And, of course, it's always a treat to hear Mr. Marr play his guitar, especially when it's done on top-notch material.
The Cribs (with Johnny Marr) play Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3030. With Adam Green and the Dead Trees.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to [email protected].