[10 November 2009]
Opening your album with a track called “We Were Aborted”? It’s the Cribs all right, calling back to their glory days of blood and gore, backs split open on NME champagne glasses or stomachs scratched up in the middle of a furious set.
But once you get down to the music, Ignore the Ignorant isn’t exactly juvenile. It sounds positively middle-aged. True, there was always more to the West Yorkshire trio than anyone gave them credit for. Churning out absolutely brilliant pop tunes at a rate to make Guided by Voices blush, the Cribs never had much respect for the scene that made them, and that was always one of their strengths. Anyone who could write the furious pop anti-anthem “Hey Scenesters” and come off as cooler than any of the bands they maligned had to have their wits about them.
So maybe this newfound maturity is due to the illustrious influence of one Johnny Marr, still serving his time as an honorary Jarman brother (hopefully steering clear of the blood and guts business). Marr adds a dose of respectability to the often-immature Jarman brothers, without a doubt.
But oh, how it hurts to say this—maybe the presence of Mr. Marr was not the right path for these scrappy young things. Not to impugn his character: Marr remains one of the coolest and most likeable people in rock, escaping the Smiths’ breakdown with style and wit, but (sadly) not much to offer musically. It’s the most likely reason for the oddly disjointed nature of this album: lyrics as (or more) brutal than ever, but a surprisingly tedious sound to back them up. Listen to the Smithsian jangle on “We Share the Same Skies”, or the ‘80s flair on “City of Bugs”. While the Cribs’ harsh, braying, inimitable vocals remain the same, their once defiantly distinct music now just sounds dulled.
But maybe Marr isn’t entirely to blame. After all, it’s four albums in for the boys, and with each album their sound has grown a little more mature. The difference is that The New Fellas and the impossibly brilliant Men’s Needs matched musical maturity with vigor, life, and spirit. Ignore the Ignorant by contrast, is a dirge to a dying sound—if the Jarman brothers want to return guitar-rock to the prominence it had when they first stormed the scene, this isn’t the way to go about it. Ignore the Ignorant might be a technically better album than those earlier efforts, but it’s a hell of lot less fun.
It’s simplistic to say, on this album in particular, that they’ve matured, and maybe they haven’t, deep down. But pop isn’t a deep business, and it’s all in how it sounds. And on the first listen, Ignore the Ignorant sounds like a revelation—they’re all grown up now. But on repeated spins, the album becomes the most terrible of things: forgettable. There are some stronger numbers, particularly the lively “Cheat on Me”, but the majority are simply average. “Victim of Mass Production” could be half a dozen other tracks on the album, while the melodic rhythm of “Emasculate Me” and the smooth hook of “Hari Kari” have more energy in their titles than in a single note of music. By its title track, Ignore the Ignorant has basically worn out its welcome. It’s an okay album, not terrible by a long shot, but it’s not really worth the space on your iPod, either. So thanks for playing, Mr. Marr, but maybe it’s time for the Jarman trio to get back to their roots.
“Here’s one for all the cynics, then”, the boys sing on “Last Year’s Snow”. But the Cribs have never been a cynical band; they’ve been mad, bad, and dangerous to know, they’ve been rude and crude and they’ve seen their fair share of punch-ups. But with their earlier albums, you always got the sense that they really believed in what they were creating. The scene might be cheap, but the Cribs wouldn’t just sit back and take it—they’d write their rock numbers and do the best they could. Now, when we need them the most, they make us ask—is this the best they could do?