Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Cribs - "Ignore the Ignorant" (LP Review)

I've been putting this one off for almost two years now... Here's the short version: The Cribs' fourth LP, 2009's "Ignore the Ignorant", is a good LP, but the addition of Johnny Marr in 2008 ultimately hurt them more than it helped.

It is ok to speak of this now, since in April The Cribs announced that Johnny Marr had left the band amicably. While I respect Marr & The Smiths, and The Cribs have a history of working with a number of alt-rock veterans (e.g., Lee Renaldo on "Be Safe", Jon Slade on "Advice From a Roving Artist"), I'm first and foremost a Cribs fan. And although I liked the idea of an extended collaboration with Johnny, it just didn't work as well as it might have. I'm glad they tried it; the Jarman brothers are cool with it, Johnny is cool with it, so I can be cool with it too.

The primary problem with this LP is the song writing is not as crisp as it was on their previous releases. Perhaps that reflects the presence of Johnny Marr upsetting the song writing dynamic of the Jarman brothers: either his input didn't always mesh with them, or maybe they changed their style to accommodate him (Marr is about finesse, while The Cribs, let's be honest, are at their best just bashing it out). Or maybe it is just The Cribs are no longer "sixteen and really bored" (I lifted that association from someone, but I've forgotten where) and they're not going to have that earnest urgency of their youth. Whatever the reason, it seems like there are fewer Cribs trademarks: sing-along choruses, hooks and memorable riffs, and vocal trade-offs between twins Gary and Ryan.

The secondary but still critical problem with this LP is its production. Producer Nick Launay should be shot. Yes, Alex Krapanos's entry in the "loudness war" from the previous LP is gone, but in its place Launay appeared to have recorded the band from a building next door to where they were playing, with the music piped through a muddy tube. He's managed to find the no man's land between the (overly) bright loudness of the prior LP and the endearing lo-fi sound of their first two. Please work with Edywn Collins again.

Because of the addition of Marr and his influence on the song writing, I'm going to break with my typical review structure and instead go song-by-song (all songs are listed as co-written by all four band members):

We Were Aborted: Wow, what a strong start. Although not officially released as a single, the band made this song a free download prior to the release of the LP. Lyrically and musically, this song rawks as hard as any of their earlier material (i.e., it sounds pre-Marr).

Cheat on Me: This was their first single from the LP and it is a great song. I hear a small Marr influence in the guitar riffs, but it works great and if the entire LP sounded like this I'd have no complaints.

We Share The Same Skies
: Their 2nd (and last) single sounds like a long-lost demo from The Smiths. If Morrisey ever did a cover of this song, you'd swear it would belong on "Louder Than Bombs". It is actually a good song, but it doesn't sound like The Cribs at all.

City of Bugs: WTF?! Where did this Sonic Youth sound-alike come from? It is also a pretty good song, even though it doesn't "sound like" The Cribs until the break about 3 minutes in.

Hari Kari: An almost classic Cribs song. All the pieces are there, but they just don't come together.

Last Year's Snow
: Similar to "We Share The Same Skies"; Gary belts this one out, but it would be easy to imagine Morrisey singing.

Emasculate Me
: Like "Hari Kari" above; it sounds like someone else (Marr?) trying to write a song that sounds like The Cribs. Skip.

Ignore the Ignorant: The title track is strong, sounds like The Cribs, and is a primary exhibit for what a bad job Launay did.

Save Your Secrets
: Another song that appears to have all the elements, but they never come together. It treads dangerously close to piano ballad territory. Skip.

Nothing: This sounds like an outtake from "Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever". Hooks, scream-along chorus, the whole thing. Great song.

Victim of Mass Production: On any of their other LPs, this would be considered a weak song. The influence of The Replacements can be heard here ("we're not supposed to be here anyway!").

Stick To Yr Guns: A pretty good song, similar to pre-Marr songs like "Shoot The Poets" and "Haunted". This is the song that "Save Your Secrets" (above) wanted to be but failed.

All of the above adds up to a good, solid LP that should be in your collection. And if you've never heard of The Cribs, you'll probably even like this more -- at least until you discover how excellent their prior work is. Yes, I realize going on about how much better their earlier LPs are is so cliche that it deserves its own song (cf. "Our Bovine Public"). On the other hand, NME & Pitchfork rate this LP highly because their trying to make up for completely whiffing on their earlier LPs.

Hopefully their future work will return to their lo-fi roots and we'll just think of "Ignore the Ignorant" as a curious collaboration that lasted 2+ years and produced over one LP's worth of material.

Final Score: 7/10.

Bonus links:

* In typical Cribs' fashion, there are plenty of bonus tracks and b-sides from these sessions. The ones I know of are: "Is Anybody There?", "Curse This English Rain", and "So Hot Now".

* In August 2010, the 4-piece Cribs released a one-sided 7" single, "Housewife". It's not a bad song, but it is so different I'm not entirely sure what to make of it.

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