Major label debut from British indie trio sounds great but doesn’t break much new ground.
Just like the never-ending suburbs of Southern California keep producing an endless stream of punk bands, the United Kingdom keeps churning out band after band, each touted as the "band of the year", each releasing albums filled with "perfect pop songs with provocative punk power". The latest contestant, fraternal trio the Cribs (twins Ryan (guitar and vocals) and Gary Jarman (bass and vocals) accompanied by kid brother Ross on drums), return with their major label debut, the wonderfully titled Men's Needs, Woman's Needs, Whatever. Produced by Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos and mixed by Andy Wallace (Nirvana, Foo Fighters, At the Drive-In), the disc sounds great, bursting with angular guitar riffs and shout-along choruses.
Recorded in Vancouver at the close of a six week North American tour with Franz Ferdinand and indie stalwarts Death Cab for Cutie, the band wanted to capture the energy and ferocity of their legendary stage show, something they thought had not been accomplished on their previous two albums. To that end, they chose Kapranos to produce because he was so familiar with their live show, having seen them perform night after night on tour. Though I haven’t been lucky enough to catch their live show, Kapranos was clearly the right choice; he managed to rein in the band’s sloppier impulses while leaving the manic energy of their earlier releases intact. Influenced by punk, melodic British indie, and, to a lesser extent, alternative rock from this side of the Atlantic (think Weezer meets Pavement), Men's Needs, Woman's Needs, Whatever delivers a short burst of melodic pop songs (mostly about girls) with big hooks and bigger choruses.
The album begins with the impossibly catchy, sarcastic "Our Bovine Public", its opening guitar riff echoed by the lead vocals ("D'you think I'd have to choose? / D'you think I'd wear brown shoes? / D'you think that I'd ever have to read about this in the news?"). Unlike some rock trios, the Jarman brothers produce a surprisingly big sound, echoing the punky energy of Weezer, or the Fratellis (but without the laddishness). In fact, Ryan Jarman sounds an awful lot like Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, especially when singing about relationships, as on the jaunty "Girls Like Mystery" and the vaguely saccharine "Moving Pictures" ("You'll sleep tonight / Dream dreams where I would die / It's alright / It's alright / They did not come true / Although they will do, in time"). He's not above a little self-deprecation either, describing himself as "an indecisive piece of shit" in the amusing "I'm a Realist" ("I'm a realist / I'm a romantic / I'm an indecisive piece of shit").
And just like Cuomo, the Cribs sometimes pair cynical lyrics with poppy melodies and catchy choruses, as on "I've Tried Everything" ("Love is a lie / Attraction an instinct / Believe what you like, you decide / But I still think that"), written by bassist Jarman while in Japan, after many long months on the road touring in support of the band’s second album. But the most interesting song on the entire album -- "Be Safe" (and the only one that deviates from the standard British indie template) -- features a vitriolic stream of consciousness rant inexplicably delivered with relish by Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo:
"One of those fucking awful black days when nothing is pleasing and everything that happens is an excuse for anger. An outlet for emotions stockpiled, an arsenal, an armor. These are the days when I hate the world, hate the rich, hate the happy, hate the complacent, the TV watchers, beer drinkers, the satisfied ones. Because I know I can be all of those little hateful things and then I hate myself for realizing that. . . ."Echoing Renton’s monologues in Trainspotting, the track sticks out like a sore thumb. Perhaps surprisingly, the band deliberately included the song on the disc. As Jarman said "[I]t'll throw a few people off, but that's good. When you think how mainstream and safe indie's gotten, in England at least, it’s good to know we've got stuff like that on the record." Hopefully the band will continue to take such chances and to broaden their sonic palette on future releases.