“It’s almost like a tribute to nothing,” says Gary Jarman, perched on the edge of a sagging settee. We’re in the dressing room of Portsmouth’s Wedgewood Rooms along with younger brother/drummer Ross ahead of a sold-out show, and talk has turned to the title of The Cribs’ sixth LP For All My Sisters.
“We spent a lot of time choosing, and I’m glad we went with this one ‘cause it’s been provocative – every interview we’ve done someone’s asked about it,” says the bassist. “It’s kind of vague and it’s kind of loose so everyone has different ideas about it, which I like because when you’re writing lyrics it’s good to be evocative without putting too fine a point on it. You’re one of the first people to say that there’s a feminist slant on it, which I’m glad about because our interest in feminism was definitely something we considered. There’s also the fact that we’re a band of siblings but we don’t have any sisters.” He pauses. “We thought that people who understood the band would consider all of these things.”
The idea of a ‘tribute to nothing’ pervades the excellent For All My Sisters, the first LP from the trio in almost three years. “Like a candle on a vacant table… I’m burning for no one” goes the album’s lead single ‘Burning for No One’, while another track was titled after Gary’s fruitless search one afternoon for LA’s Spring on Broadway (there is no Spring on Broadway in LA, instead the two run parallel). Perhaps this vaguely Sisyphean theme comes from the fact that up until as recently as the release of their last record, 2012’s sprawling In the Belly of the Brazen Bull, The Cribs have battled with critical misunderstanding. Despite attempts to distance themselves from the ‘four sweaty boys with guitars’ indie rock that flooded the charts in the early-to-mid 2000s through songs such as ‘Don’t You Wanna Be Relevant?’ and ‘Our Bovine Public’, their punky sound and heavily accented delivery have consistently made them easy targets for the uninitiated. Simon Price, for instance, in his review of In the Belly of… for the Independent, sneered that “If the Cribs were any more landfill, they’d have seagulls following them around.” If after 12 years and five albums critics are still saying you count for ‘nothing’, why not embrace it? You might just end up making one of the best albums of your career.
“I think that we felt like we had something to prove with the last record, and with this one we didn’t feel like that at all,” recalls Gary. “I think the gap between this record and the last is the longest we’ve had and that really gave us time to reconsider the band,” adds Ross. “Yeah, we had a bit of a contractual thing for a year (in 2014) and in some ways it ended up helping us,” says Gary. “It was an enforced break and it gave us a bit of context. With the fifth record, Johnny (Marr, who joined The Cribs as a fully-fledged member from 2008-2011) had just left the band and the way we were dealing with that was to get together and play all the time. We wrote a lot of stuff and had this desire to use everything, so if you listen to that record there’s a lot of different ideas and every song’s got a lot of sections. The reaction to that with this album was to be much more focused and leaner; concise instead of using every idea.”
The idea of ‘focus’ is something Gary is keen to stress when discussing the new album. “We definitely identify as a pop band, although it’s a loaded term these days. There’s two sides to us- one really influenced by pop and one really influenced punk. When we talk about this record being a pop record, it’s not like all of a sudden we were influenced by anything different, it’s just that the songs have more in common with our poppier songs like ‘Another Number’ or ‘Men’s Needs’. We’re just focusing on one facet of the band- it’s still totally within The Cribs’ DNA.”
“I think everybody likes pop music,” Ross cuts in. “In the van the other day we were talking about Nirvana albums and ultimately Nevermind is just a pop record. Using the term pop doesn’t have to mean it’s all programmed drums and synths.”
“Yeah, like the reason Nirvana have always resonated so deeply with us is that it was accessible to us as kids but it also represented something different to more conventional pop music,” Gary adds. “You can translate your ideas better if the vehicle for it is really immediate and affecting.”
‘Immediate and affecting’ could be used to describe any of the twelve songs on For All My Sisters. Even the seven minute long ‘Pink Snow’ never strays into self-indulgence – a distant cousin of In the Belly of the Brazen Bull’s ‘Back to the Bolthole’, the song feels cathartic and urgent, with echoes of the grandeur of Ignore the Ignorant’s ‘City of Bugs’. Elsewhere riffs soar and synths sparkle, Ric Ocasek’s (yes, that Ric Ocasek) sympathetic production lending warmth and colour to the tumbledown punkiness that marks this unmistakably as a Cribs record – albeit in a lesser measure than we’re used to. This return to the broad appeal that characterized 2007’s Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever could signify much more than a simple desire to shake off the excesses of a previous album, too – in coming to terms with the lazy criticism they’ve expended so much time and effort rallying against, the brothers have bookended the last decade and forged themselves a clean slate. Will the release of this record see a repeat of the mainstream crossover success of Men’s Needs however? Probably not, but it doesn’t matter. The difference this time is The Cribs don’t care. As the Manic Street Preachers once wrote, “I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing.”