At a certain point, The Cribs started to overthink things. It’s understandable: As experience accumulates over time, it has a tendency to flush out the youthful unselfconsciousness that can make young bands so vibrant and exciting. The trio from West Yorkshire, England, was certainly that on albums with a buzzy intensity that felt like it might have veered out of control at any moment. Working variously with Edwyn Collins of Orange Juice, Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand and former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr helped the band channel those chaotic impulses into songs spilling over with energy.
More recently, twin brothers Gary and Ryan Jarman and their younger sibling, Ross, have lost the spark that ignited their earlier work. Their 2015 album For All My Sisters had its moments, but 2017’s 24-7 Rock Star Shit was turgid and dull—too much rock-star shit, maybe, and not enough hunger to be a rock star. The Cribs come halfway back on their latest, an album that starts strong before the focus slips in the second half.
Night Network is the first Cribs album the Jarmans have produced themselves, and they dial in the sharp-edged indie-rock sound that characterized the bracing guitars and punchy rhythm of The Cribs’ earlier records. It’s in the songwriting that things sometimes fall apart. The spacious, airy opener “Goodbye” is stacked with hazy vocal harmonies that call to mind late-’60s California, and they complete the vibe with a bright guitar solo pushed just to the point where it crackles.
A few songs later, “Screaming in Suburbia” cranks up the amplifiers to window-rattling levels with a crunchy guitar riff that surges through the arrangement between taut, hooky vocal melodies. The brothers’ voices blend into subtle harmonies on “Deep Infatuation” as they rise above snarling guitar and a busy bassline. So far, so good. But then Night Network starts to lose the thread. Sharp songwriting cedes ground to frenzied churning, as if the band hoped that enough volume and riffage might disguise a dwindling stream of inspiration.
There’s no movement in the riff on “She’s My Style,” and some of the musical transitions toward the end of the song are downright clumsy, as if someone missed a count. Two tracks later, on “The Weather Speaks Your Name,” the vocals are shaky enough that you wonder whether the Jarmans didn’t spend enough time rehearsing the harmonies. Trite lyrics don’t help, and when the lumbering guitar parts try, and fumble, a shift in musical dynamics late in the song, the decision to self-produce the album suddenly seems questionable when an outside set of ears might have saved The Cribs from themselves.
It’s not too late for The Cribs to come to their own rescue—plenty of bands have replaced the fire that fueled them early on with an emphasis on the craft of making music, from writing songs to arranging them to recording them. The Cribs have shown they can do all of those things; all that’s missing is consistency.
Eric R. Danton has been contributing to Paste since 2013, and writing about music and pop culture for longer than he cares to admit. Follow him on Twitter or visit his website.