The Cribs: Go Johnny(Marr) Go!

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I’m a self confessed Cribs addict. I can’t get enough of them. Since the time I witnessed the brothers Jarman grace the stage of the Norwich Waterfront opening for Maximo Park back in May ’05. That night, lead mentalist Ryan Jarman bashed his lip open on the mic and hung from a ceiling mounted projector, the skewed images therein projecting haphazardly onto a drum kit and not onto the
purposeful flat screen at the back of the stage, reminding the audience of the destructive wake of the Wakefield trio. I was in love.

Fast forward a year or so and The Cribs were beginning to get noticed for the shambolic charm of their live shows, and their beautifully realised pop-tinged chaos punk, all ‘whoa-oh-oahs’ and doo- wop refrains. And pogoing. Lots of pogoing. They were back to the Waterfront to showcase high- benchmark album The New Fellas, and it ended in typical fashion; Jarman once again putting in his bid for the ‘most rock ‘n’ roll front man’ ever by downing a can of his preferred Stella, throwing his guitar into his amps and launching into the crowd, where this lucky punter was able to catch him and help him back towards the stage. Oh, and tear his t-shirt collar a bit. Sorry Ryan.

The band also demonstrated their love for all things punk and obscure and indie an’ that, peppering their set with half-known b-sides which only a handful of devotees could drunkenly warble back at them. Their disinterest in the mainstream was more than admirable, frequently name-dropping cult seven-inchers like Comet Gain and Huggy Bear into their interviews. In one interview Ryan even
admitted Gary hated the fact they had a backdrop with their name on at shows, seeing it as a first step towards ‘selling out’, and was even more vocal about his disregard for Ryan’s legendary half-cut appearances on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. Hardly prime time viewing.

The Cribs were never a band to go out of their way to grab the headlines and boost profiles, so it was understandable that a few hearts sank when it was announced that Smithsonian string-botherer Johnny Marr was to join the band as a full time member. They’d played a couple of shows with him guesting in encores in his hometown of Manchester as part of that year’s NME Awards Tour, and as if getting one of the most famous guitarists of all time to come in and dabble around with your songs for a bit wasn’t enough to ruffle a few feathers, recruiting him full time and announcing an album was to be completed was such a polarizing effect you probably needed special glasses to understand it fully.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if that album, 2009’s Ignore The Ignorant, had been any cop, but as the fuzzy Smiths-a-like guitar line intro of ‘Cheat On Me’ rang out across the land, it was clear to see major changes were afoot in The Cribs camp. Changes for the worse.

Gone were the scraggly high-pitched guitar riffs, instead replaced with the Radio 2 bound double-guitar production of Marr and Jarman’s dual instrumented regiment, the latter being demoted to power chords while the former diddled typical C86 string patterns over the top. The half-tempo fug of the awkwardly rhythmed ‘Save Your Secrets’ was a far cry from the shouty call to arms of ‘Hey Scenesters!’, and the middle-of-the-road posturing of ‘We Share The Same Skies’ a million miles away from the stomping drunken chants of ‘You’re Gonna Lose Us’.

Marr was an obviously driving force behind all this, coming on like some kind of wise old granddad in every YouTube vox-pop he poked his little, constantly furrowed fizzog into, dispensing ever ridiculous titbits of stockpiled wisdom to any discerning wannabe hipsters out there and embarrassing himself in the process. ‘Ryan’s style of guitar playing is… really cool. And I think he’s a really cool guy’. Cheers Johnny.

And it wasn’t just in the studio either. Onstage, The Cribs live shows became increasingly tight, the extra sextuplet of nickel wound strings immediately bringing with it an unnatural, beefier sound for the band. Sure, the cracking unsure Jarman vocals were still there – it’d take more than an 80s guitar legend to change that – but it sounded altogether like a wholly different band. Every bore-hole guitar sweep, once piercing and profound, now shrouded with a comfort blanket of actual chords and second guitar warmth; every scratchy breakdown accompanied by some old man on the left splaying his legs and strumming like a drunk uncle at a disco.

And it wasn’t just the music either! The ‘antics’ that the band were famous for; toned down a notch after every show, presumably after Marr’s older disposition brought with it a new found maturity.
Gone were the gratuitous scenes of Ryan swilling cheap lager between his chops and drawling incomprehensibly into the mic, replaced instead with a chaos-by-numbers live set, losing that vital personality that drew in the die-hards in the first place. New bands are like potential lovers, initially you make conversation based on aesthetics, but you soon find out if it’ll work after getting to know the personality; the onstage banter and everything around the songs as well as the tracks themselves.

With Marr out of the picture we should hopefully see a return to form for the Jarman boys. I’m not saying they need to return to heavy drinking and limb-bruising stage dives every night, that’d just be irresponsible and silly. But they at least need to recapture some of that shambolicism from their earlier records, the unhinged spectacle of an accidental amp-toppling, brought on by a fuzzy lack of special awareness, the calamitous feedback shriek of a Fender Mustang make forced love to the leather cladding of an Orange amp, as stage hands eager to save the PA system from destruction are swept away with a knowing flick of the hand.

The Cribs his the festival circuit this summer, and it’ll be interesting to see how they play it. The best thing they could do would be to draw a line under this record, and revisit pastures of old as a three piece again.

But if they get a session guitarist in to cover Johnny’s parts on the newer songs… That’ll be the end of The Cribs. Our Cribs.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.