Why is it that every imaginable connotation for the word “crib” doesn’t bode well for neophyte British garage rockers the Cribs? First, there’s MTV’s conspicuous-consumption porn TV show, MTV Cribs, on which no self-respecting scruffy garage band would ever be seen. Granted, MTV Cribs has very little to do with the Cribs’ self-titled debut album, but I have two other “crib” references that are apropos, and everyone knows that three is the magic number needed to prove a point beyond question.
Where were we? Oh yeah, “cribs”. There’s also the whole “cribs-are-where-babies-sleep” angle. Our band in question consists of the Jarman brothers - Ryan (guitar, vox), Gary (bass, vox) and Ross (drums) - who, judging by the liner note photos, only started shaving last week (none is older than 24). The brothers wrote all the songs on the self-titled effort and nearly all of them (the songs, not the brothers) sound young and still crib-bound. They’re playing with the building blocks of garage: lo-fi scuff (“The Watch Trick”), fuzzy guitars (“What About Me”), girl problems (“Learning How to Fight”) without adding anything of their own to the well-established garage formula. Or maybe they were overwhelmed by their recording studio - the legendary Toerag Studios in London - and felt compelled to create a paint-by-numbers garage album, lest they show up any of the musical ghosts who haunt Toerag.
Regardless of whether it’s the ignorance of youth or fear of the supernatural, The Cribs sounds somewhat contrived, like the Cribs are cribbing off of the Strokes (now my creaky “cribs” framing device is complete): On “The Lights Went Out,” Ryan borrows Strokes’ guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.‘s turn-a-guitar-into-a-New-Wave-synth trick without even asking; “Things You Should Be Knowing” is little more than “Someday” Revisited; throughout the album, Ryan has a knack for Casablancian mumbles.
There’s nothing truly wrong with The Cribs—hell, I’d be all for more songs in the poppy vein of “You Were Always the One” or the darker flourishes of “Tri’elle”, as both tunes show a willingness venture from the standard garage template - but there isn’t enough on the album to strongly recommend it. The prevailing trend in garage these days seems to be quick, one-hit-and-out bands (Vines, D4) instead of career acts (White Stripes, Hives), which begs the question: When did the garage scene mirror that of teen bubblegum pop? Half-baked, derivative (though perfectly inoffensive) albums like The Cribs won’t reverse the trend.