When you think of The Cribs, you think of a band of brothers that embody a true DIY ethos. This is a band that has, for two decades, prided themselves by doing things on their own terms, still touring in a van and generally turning left when everyone in the music industry turns right. So, for these indie-punk purists to get embroiled in an ugly legal battle that essentially ground them to a halt, stopping them from touring and releasing material is beyond unjust. At the time of the trio putting out their seventh record ’24-7 Rock Star Shit’ in 2017, The Cribs found themselves dropped by their management and so began the long slog of meetings with lawyers and the unearthing of being royally shafted from a deal they signed back in the early days of the band.
With a saga that stretched on for nearly three years, the brothers Jarman considered throwing in the towel, and if it hadn’t been for everyone’s favourite uncle, Dave Grohl, there might not have been an eighth Cribs record. The story goes; after supporting Foo Fighters at the Manchester Stadium in 2018, The Cribs were telling the friendly rock god about their legal troubles, only for Grohl to offer them the chance to record at Foos HQ, Studio 606 once they were ready to roll, along with some sage advice to help combat industry bullshit. Leap forward to 2020; they’re now on their own label, Sonic Blew (in partnership with PIAS) and the likely lads from Wakefield can finally reveal their latest album, ‘Night Network’.
Given The Cribs went through a torrid time leading up to and during the making of ‘Night Network’ it’s testament to the Yorkshire troop that this new LP remains unaffected by all the legal wrangling’s that hampered them so much. If anything, the three piece’s newest offering is surprisingly carefree and upbeat, with shades of Motown, doo-wop and nostalgic, sepia toned pop. Of course, this is The Cribs we’re talking about, so don’t fear, there’s still those rough edges and a liberal deployment of fuzz found amongst the less harsh moments. If ’24-7 Rock Star Shit’ was the outfit’s most acerbic offering yet, ‘Night Network’ is the antithesis of the Steve Albini produced scuzz-fest.
And here’s the bugbear with ‘Night Network’, there’s nothing ultimately bad about it, but nor are there any wow moments either. It’s merely ok, like a decent ham sandwich or when your football team (sorry readers in the US and Canada, I’m English, you’ll not catch me saying soccer) dig deep and cling onto a 1-0 win. It’s satisfying in parts but not overly gripping, which is a shame because The Cribs have consistently produced standout songs and albums over their near two decades as a group. On the plus side, there’s the classic Cribs- pop-fuzz of ‘Running Into You’ that encapsulates the band’s catchier side, along with it’s more raucous tendencies. The same can be said for the hip-shaking, hand-clap indebted ‘Never Thought I’d Feel Again’. The dreamy haze of opener ‘Goodbye’, which shows off the group’s tender side, reimagines The Cribs as an indie barbershop quartet (or is that trio?), which illustrates their poppier, more accessible underbelly, and this DNA can be located sporadically throughout the album. Although, as the record plays out, ‘Night Network’ finds itself stuck in a mid-pace limbo-land, where tracks neither zip by with a fuzzy abandon, nor do they strip things back, like ‘Goodbye’, and tug on the heartstrings. Yes, there are moments that standout but there aren’t enough of them to make ‘Night Network’ a memorable listen.
It could well be that The Cribs are victims of their own legacy, when they’ve set such a high bar with previous releases, sometimes it’s hard to maintain that consistency. We should just be thankful that the band managed to overcome a really crap time and still had the hunger to continue producing music.