With so many storylines converging, Night Network, the new album by The Cribs, was destined to be a compelling album. It emerges after a rare 18-month period of relative silence from the band due to a protracted legal battle in which the band became self-managed and had to put all of its time and energy into gaining ownership of its back catalog.
Against the backdrop of The Cribs closing out their second decade together, and twin brothers Gary and Ryan Jarman turning 40—it’d be entirely forgivable if the band slipped into self-indulgent reflection or some kind of risky sonic reinvention and delivered a “very good” album. Instead, The Cribs did precisely none of those things and made a great one.
Any bitterness from their recent legal ordeal is nowhere to be found on opening track “Goodbye.” Over a lush and layered arrangement that evokes Brian Wilson and The Walkmen, as singer and bassist Gary Jarman explores themes of new starts and letting go. It’s a gorgeous and stunning song that looks back with wisdom and forward with hope. Rather than dwelling on dark times, this is the sound of a band breaking free.
After the calm reassurance of the opening track, the album ignites with the first single, “Running Into You.” The sound of guitarist Ryan Jarman’s shoegazey squall punching its way out of this power-pop hookfest is an unexpected contrast, but it’s the perfect counterpoint to Gary Jarman’s falsetto on the chorus.
The strategically placed tambourine and Ronettes-like drum breakdowns are the first hints of some of the subtle Motown vibes that show up later on the album. On songs like “Never Thought I’d Feel Again” and “Deep Infatuation,” you can all but smell the spilled drinks from the kids rushing the dance floor at San Francisco club Popscene.
“Screaming In Suburbia” and “I Don’t Know Who You Are” are two stunning standouts that flirt with melancholy while avoiding melodrama. On “Suburbia” Gary Jarman wrestles with staying true to his roots while navigating adulthood. “Things may have changed/ But the spirit inside of ya/ Is still hearing voices now/ The baby just won’t shut up,” he sings over a driving mid-tempo stomp provided by drummer and younger brother, Ross Jarman.
“I Don’t Know Who You Are” is built around a gorgeous cascading guitar line that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Ride EP and a vulnerable and delicate vocal from Gary Jarman. “The Weather Speaks Your Name” plays with a similar idea slightly less successfully later on the album—but just when it feels like the melody has worn out its welcome, an unexpected tempo shift makes a powerful statement.
“Earl and Duke” is a tender ode to a friendship between two men who are—“brothers in everything but blood”—that might be pulling a bit of a fast one, lyrically. This is the band of brothers who wish each other happy birthdays on Twitter with heartfelt notes after all, so it’s not a huge jump to think that the affection in the lyrics might be meant for someone closer to home.
The album closes with a Smiths-style romp called “Neon Night” that provides a literal bookend to the opening track. While “Goodbye” explored the beauty of moving on, “Neon Night” is a defiant confrontation with the past as Gary Jarman sings, “You can’t give me back my innocence/ So I say good riddance.” It builds to a dizzy three-quarter carnival of catharsis in the breakdown that opens the door for a well-earned happy ending. When Gary Jarman sings, “The past has turned its back on me/ But I’ll be happy,” it’s not just a victory for him, but for everyone.
Follow Skott Bennett at Twitter.com/skottbennett.