The other night, I saw The Cribs play at the O2 Forum Kentish Town, and it’s launched me on a long trip down memory lane. I stood Gary-side of the stage, remembering with nostalgic warmth the names of their roadies as they set up the brothers’ instruments. I imparted all my Cribs trivia to my friend who’d agreed to accompany me – a friend I’d shown the Cribs’ music a year ago, determined to convert Jarman-skeptics everywhere to my faith. Throughout the set, I grinned and glowed with affection for this band, a group I’ve known and loved for almost half of my life.
The 10th anniversary tour of Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever also marks 10 years since I fell in love with The Cribs. I was 13, sitting in my friend’s mum’s car as she drove us out of a car park in Walsall when my friend stuck the CD on, fresh from HMV. ‘Our Bovine Public’ blasted out of the car speakers, as furious and assertive as it still sounds now. Next to the rest of 2007’s bleached lad-rock, The Cribs rang out raw and unsanitised, intoxicating in their rejection of the music press’ attempts to group them in with a wave of indie already over its peak, unstarstruck by their newfound fame.
Over the next decade, I went to see The Cribs live at least 7 times, sang along to the opening riff of ‘Another Number’ in crowds of 100 and 20,000, bought 4 different Cribs T-shirts, met the brothers in a radio studio with Johnny Marr, got so emotionally involved with them that they started appearing in my dreams, in which, most of the time, we’d just hang out.
As a teen, I identified with The Cribs on many levels: like me, they grew up in a provincial ex-industrial town and felt trapped and hopeless except for music. They devoured punk, rock, riot grrrl, indie and pop, hunted down rarities by underground bands, committed themselves like no other similar indie band to really understanding music. Like me as a teen, the Jarman brothers defined themselves by embracing their outsider status – a trait that can make them seem a little adolescent and elitist at times, but which I identified with when I first found them. The Cribs sound like no other band: their penchant for sharp-edged arpeggios delivered on crisp lead guitar, periods of fuzzy white noise and crashing drums and Gary and Ryan’s complementary Wakefield drawls make them unique and characterful. I’ve never heard another song and thought “Wait, is this The Cribs?”, unless it was.
Mostly, though, I think it’s The Cribs’ songwriting that marks them out for me. Most Cribs songs fall into one of a few types. In the first type, they launch you in medias res into an argument or conversation, sometimes with a lover or each other, but often with a whole scene or with some personified version of society’s crushing expectations. ‘Mirror Kissers’ and ‘Hey Scenesters!’ fall into this type; as do ‘Men’s Needs’ and ‘Come On, Be a No-one’. These Cribs songs make you feel like you just had a shouting match in a pub with some kid that bullied you in school and you won. “You aren’t allowed to say that you’re better; you aren’t allowed to say that ’cause you’re the hipster type!” The Jarmans’ plunge you into their angry vernacular, and the lyrics are defiantly literal – there’s no attempt to extrapolate universals, to write poetry; The Cribs just deliver their bar-brawl verbal blows and each one lands like a punch to the ear. ‘You’re Gonna Lose Us’ is maybe the best example – the guitar sound is like Comet Gain’s, but even Comet Gain couldn’t imitate the Jarmans’ loose vocals and relentless energy. Despite The Cribs’ anger, there’s something affirming about the major chord sequences they use to represent that fury, as if they write their angriest songs in a good mood after winning fights. This is the mood that captured the hearts of thousands of teens in the noughties, allowing them to feel energetic and excited but also absolutely fucking furious with the world.
As well as argumentative, the Jarman bros also do reflective. As a 15-year-old, miserable in my very own “merry city”, I listened to ‘I’ve Tried Everything’ every day on the way to school, keen to believe that there was nothing that could drag me out of my melancholy to legitimise my darkling emotional state. On the darkest days, I would put ‘Be Safe’ on repeat, sinking into the growl of the bass and learning every word of Lee Ranaldo’s monologue off by heart. At their best, Cribs tracks are wildly intense: ‘City of Bugs’, ‘Be Safe’ and ‘Pink Snow’ are all capable of ending live sets, devolving into Sonic Youth-style feedback and mutilated white noise, the crowd always euphoric, saturated in noise, arms outstretched as if to open up their bodies to more sound.
Most Cribs albums also have another type of song on them – the sentimental track: think ‘Shoot the Poets’, ‘It Was Only Love’, ‘Stick to Yr Guns’ or ‘Simple Story’. These songs come over distinctly Ryan, showcasing the frontman’s love for hackneyed chord sequences and cheesy, sweet melodies. Sung by a less individual singer and without their witty turns of phrase, these tracks could sound trite, but Ryan delivers them with such charm and innocence that it absolves them of their hypersentimentality.
When In the Belly of the Brazen Bull came out in 2012, I remember buying the deluxe album on the day it was released. I rushed home and commandeered the TV from my dad, putting the DVD disc into the player and watching all the ‘making of’ videos and interviews to give me as much context as possible before hearing the album. My dad rolled his eyes, not wanting to sit through videos of music he didn’t enjoy. This reaction would with other artists make me turn off the DVD, ashamed and uncomfortable as he refused to leave the room. But with The Cribs I felt defiant. “No, dad, I respect and love The Cribs so much that nothing you can say will make me think less of them.” It was true, and even as I grow up and out of my argumentative phase, I still love The Cribs.