BACK TO BASICS
In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull is a stunning return to form by The Cribs, fresh off the departure of guitarist Johnny Marr (of Smiths fame) from the band. Their long-awaited album (long-awaited as they have been waiting for the corporate indie ship to sink, article here) is their best yet, marrying the best of their signature no-holds-barred grunge and punk sound and the slicker and cleaner sound of their last release, Ignore The Ignorant. Declaring that with this album, The Cribs are taking on the mainstream “pop hell”, it sure doesn’t disappoint being chocked full of tunes, anthemic choruses, raw emotion, direction and attitude.
The album opens with a roar with “Glitters Like Gold”, loud, cocky, unapologetic yet melodic, as Ryan Jarman sings “kiss but still fuck a ring and have forever/release me/finally dance around me/whatever you think about me/I’m the wealth beneath the shell to whatever/believe me yeah”. It is clear from the start of the album that the band is determined and firm in the songs they are putting forth, even seen in the kooky old-school 90s pop-up music video they had for this song (see below), in which they had a clear vision of what kind of band they are! The second track, “Come On, Be A No One”, continues much in the same vein as “Glitters Like Gold”, being reminiscent of their lo-fi garage sound and immensely fun. With “Jaded Youth”, they once again write about a specific group of people as with the scenesters in “Hey Scenesters” (off their second album The New Fellas) and they succeed in capturing the spirit of the jaded youth with their lack of money, tendency to pick fights, hanging out with nowhere to go and singing “songs of being lost and found/of being loved and lost”.
With tracks such as “Anna”, “Uptight” and “Chi-Town”, the Jarman brothers firmly celebrate their return to their roots, sounding brash yet incredibly honest. “Chi-Town”, the first track to be heard from the album, was embraced by fans and heralded as a return to their brand of lo-fi indie rock, as compared to the tamer and more polished Ignore The Ignorant album released with Johnny Marr in the band. The “whoo” sound at 2:23 in the song (probably made by Ryan), is so unexpected and perhaps best captures the spirit of this album, which shows the band having so much fun that their music is infectious and can’t help but bring a smile to the listener’s face! “Back To The Bolthole” is probably the most painful song to listen to in this album, not because it sounds awful but because the raw emotion in Ryan Jarman’s voice is clear, overwhelmingly honest and absolutely heartbreaking, as he sings that “you’re crying in secret about the things you’re thinking on a night/that you one day you will die/just try to think it’s the one thing that makes it all worthwhile/that I one day will die”. “I Should Have Helped” is a befitting track for the album to end with, as it features Ryan’s lone vocals against the soothing chords of an acoustic guitar.
And yet, the band isn’t done proving themselves as they roar back to life with a four-song epic a la “Be Safe” (the spoken-word track featuring Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth from their third effort, Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever). Starting with the dissonant notes and marching drumbeat of “Stalagmites”, the band proceeds into anthemic sing-along (more like shout-along) poetry – “We stand here in ceremonial dress, with a knife in the garter. Like the love you never get to feel, this is the fame of the martyr. You are the California smile, you’re the cake decorator”. The dissonant chords only serve to add to the utter pain of the songwriter but so beautifully and heartbreakingly ends with the line also featured in “Jaded Youth”, “in the meantime, I’ll write down all of these words, and sing songs of being lost and found, of being loved and lost”. The epic proceeds into “Like A Gift Giver”, a less heartwrenching and more romantic track than “Stalagmites”, but very quickly gives way to “Butterflies”, a (seemingly) sweeter and more uptempo track, which is also rather short and paves the way for the absolute last track on the album, “Arena Rock Encore with Full Cast”, and it is as epic as it is titled. As the band sings “sorry that it’s taken years, we were victims of our own ideals, but I’d rather be tied to myself than to anyone else”, it is clear that they are responding to questions about why they took such a long time to write their fifth album, seen from their rather noble ideals and opinions on the music industry.
In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull is an absolute masterpiece of an album by The Cribs and should be listened to in whole, as the album is perfectly paced and tempo and positioning of tracks very calculated, as the tracks tie in and lead in to each other perfectly. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted or for those expecting smooth, slick, generic or apathetic indie rock but it is a striking album (with a lot of balls). It will take the listener on a rollercoaster ride as it demands attention and emotional investment just as the Jarman brothers themselves have bared their souls in it.