Listening to the Crookes can often feel like a game of spot the influence, UK Edition. Fortunately, the Sheffield group’s tastes and influences skew to the impeccable, crafting exceptional indie pop heavy on hooks and possessing exemplary lyrics, all expertly emoted by lead vocalist and bassist George Waite. From the Smiths to Orange Juice, Belle & Sebastian to Pulp, Radiohead to the Jam, the Crookes clearly know their musical lineage well and, with Soapbox, rightly state their case for admittance into the hallowed ranks of their more well-known predecessors.
From note one, the Crookes display an expert ear for hooks as opening track “Play Dumb” relies on a melodic riff featuring guitar/bass interplay to carry the verses before erupting into full-on guitar pop assault on the chorus with heavy drums staking out the two and four. It’s essentially the start of a doctoral thesis on guitar-based indie rock and pop in which the Crookes expertly explore their country’s rich indie heritage in a manner appropriately befitting their predecessors.
“Don’t Put Your Faith in Me” is incessantly catchy guitar pop with a harder edge underscored by a lyrical innocence generally more associated with indie pop. Like just about everything else here, its melody is hummable, hook-y and catchy as hell, leading to a bridge section that soars ahead of an insistent, backbeat-heavy snare. Sure it can be seen as a bit formulaic and perhaps “safe” by naysayers, but there can be no arguing with the exceptional execution and endless energy with which the Crookes attack these tracks (even the ever-fickle Noel Gallagher has sung their praises, commending their exceptional lyrics).
“Echolalia”, one of the few tracks here that sounds more or less grounded in the present rather than unmoored and unbound to any one particular time period, is the most Vampire Weekend-like (a group to which they’re often compared by those looking for contemporary references and somewhat unfairly so). Lead vocalist George Waite keens and swoops his syllables in a manner more than a bit reminiscent of Ezra Koenig in both style and timbre.
“Before the Night Falls” possesses an urgency reminiscent of Pulp’s Different Class and could easily pass for an outtake from that group’s later period work as Waite channels his inner Jarvis Cocker, nearly falling all over himself in the process. Its follow-up track, “Holy Innocents”, is the lone quiet number on the album featuring just Waite’s almost alarmingly intimate vocals and piano before an exploratory guitar figure, roomy atmospherics and a stuttering martial drumbeat brings the whole thing into early-2000s Radiohead territory.
Of the album’s back half, “When You’re Fragile” shines brightest in a clutch of polished pop gems, functioning as a perfectly crafted pop song with major/minor contrasts, loud/soft dynamics and an epic, emotive chorus possessing a massive hook that, despite its Coldplay-esque title, eschews any sort of musical fragility. Album closer “Soapbox” is insistent in a manner reminiscent of latter period Jam circa That’s Entertainment with its steady backbeat, rumbling bass, stabbing guitar lines and lyrical disgust with the modern world, exploding on the outro chorus with Waite straining to contain a scream as he delivers the final lyrical couplets.
While plenty of groups are exploring and have explored similar sonic and thematic terrain in recent years, few are doing it as consistently and as well as the Crookes. With Soapbox they’ve crafted yet another gem in a growing catalog of near-perfect guitar-based pop.