Rank Your Records: The Cribs Argue About Their Six Albums
The drummer Ross then devised a complicated scoring system to settle the argument…
The Cribs L-R: Gary, Ross, Ryan.
In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
WE should all rank them, point scoring.
The Cribs are arguing. Backstage at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg identical twins Ryan and Gary, and younger brother Ross bear furrowed brows. The cause of their consternation? Being asked to collectively list their albums from worst to best. Drummer Ross doesn't even want to enter into debate until the rankings have been settled. The only thing they seem to agree on is that their latest, sixth album, For All My Sisters, will come out on top.
"It has the spirit of the first record, and the approach, but because of the amount of time and stuff we’ve done inbetween, I feel like it’s a more advanced version of the first record," explains singer/bassist Gary. "It's the pinnacle of our pop songwriting—we’ve mastered the sort of pop music that we wanted to write." And he's right. Released earlier this year, For All My Sisters is striking in that it sounds both reminiscent of the Wakefield trio's early verve, streamlined but punk-tinged, yet melodic and catchy as fuck. FAMS is polished and assured too, it's also a collection that made our top albums of the year thus far. Thing is with Rank Your Records, bands are not allowed to include their current album. Back to the drawing board then. Ross suggests a point scoring system and then they will devise an equation to work out the official rankings.
"That’s typical drummer’s logic," says Ryan. "We’ll come up with some equation that works, but technically works for nobody. I guess if we rank it that way no one will be happy!"
Actually there is one more thing that they agree on: their fourth record, 2010's Ignore the Ignorant, an album written in collaboration with The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, is entirely exempt. Instead it gets an honorable mention and here's why…
Honorable Mention: Ignore the Ignorant (2009)
Ross: Like with any other band, you meet someone and you become friends, then we decided to write a song together and we really enjoyed playing with an extra guitar player. So rather than just do one song, we wrote four songs in five days and before we knew it we’d made a record and we were touring for a couple of years.
Gary: As simplistic as that sounds, that’s what happened. We met through mutual friends, he liked The Cribs and we liked The Smiths and Johnny, and we were hanging out so much anyway we just got together and played. It was fun. It was a simple, honest collaboration. It was one of those things that got read into a lot by the press at the time. People found it peculiar.
Ryan: With someone that revered, a lot of people would think, Johnny was in The Smiths therefore if he’s in any band that isn’t The Smiths, people don’t like that. It’s so rare that collaboration records are anything but derided, but in terms of collaboration that record was really successful. We made a record that stands up on its own. I enjoyed working with Johnny a lot, but just because he was someone who was an influence on my guitar playing doesn’t mean I’m just going to sit back and become the rhythm guitarist. The way we played together was really good because we were both trying to be the lead guitarist. So we’d naturally fit around each other. It wouldn’t have worked if I’d been too reverential. We still stamped our authority on the record.
Gary: The reason why we haven’t ranked it is because we love Johnny so much and feel like it wouldn’t be fair to critique the work that we did with him as a four-piece and compare it to our work as a three-piece. It was a different era for us. It’s almost like comparing someone else’s work to your work.
4. The New Fellas (2005)
Gary: I would rank this quite low.
Ryan: That’s crazy. It’s in my top three. When we got signed and Wichita said they wanted to send us on tour we were like, “This is going to be the greatest life ever!” But then we were touring constantly and we became frustrated that the scene seemed so shallow. We were from a small town and we’d go to the big cities and we just didn’t realize what it was going to be. We were a bit disappointed it didn’t live up to this romantic notion we had: The industry was so phony.
Gary: A lot of hardcore Cribs fans have this album at the top. From a songwriting point of view it was really inflammatory and reactionary to the culture at the time—electroclash, our first dealings with hipster culture, and London. We were disillusioned with the industry and the way that we were watching bands get built up—bands we thought weren’t necessarily sincere and were passing themselves off as punk bands. I see The New Fellas as the death of the innocence of the first. It only came out one year later and we were spending a lot of time in London and getting lumped in with a lot of bands in that scene—The Libertines, etc. Everything got darker and intense. The shows we were playing weren’t the indie-pop shows we’d grown up with, they were like punk gigs where a bunch of kids would take over a pub and things would get super-chaotic.
It was exciting because it was really DIY and not strictly above board, but the gigs were really wired and that’s why the band became faster and more aggressive. We were also watching a lot of bands get snapped up by majors, watching the scene get comodified. We were pretty maladjusted kids out of a small town and there were so many bands we felt just wanted to be rock stars—which was shocking to us. Maybe we were stupid but we thought it was an anti-hero kind of thing. A punk rock movement! But we felt there were a lot of people who wanted to be rock or pop stars.
I love the album for being reactionary, but at the same time that’s why I feel slightly less fondly towards it: I feel like the songs came out of a negative space. They were all knee jerk response songs and in some ways that’s good and exciting, but for me now as a musician looking back, it felt like rolling tapes and capturing an angry band.
Ryan: When we were making that record we were just partying all the time. I listened to the record all the way through recently and it was making me laugh because you can obviously hear this was a band that was just partying in the studio. It’s almost like a Cribs record on speed. To me that sounds like a young spirited band.
3. Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever (2007)
Gary: It’s our most popular and best selling record and it was our debut for Warner Bros. so there was a lot more money and time spent. It was recorded in Vancouver in a big fancy studio which was really exciting at the time. When I went in there I didn’t feel like I was fully prepared. I was writing a lot of lyrics in the studio. Some of the songs like “Be Safe” and “Shoot the Poets” weren’t really finished. I still really like it for what it is, I just don’t listen to those songs anymore. I’ve heard the songs a lot more times. Instead of “Men’s Needs…” reminding me of a song we were writing and really enjoying, it reminds me of making a video or hearing it as a soundbed for a TV show.
Ryan: When Men’s Needs… came out it was everywhere and in the UK guitar bands were the mainstream. We were on TV a lot. The record and the songs just remind us being in this weird position as opposed to the first albums which remind us of being really passionate and pure.
Noisey: But you guys signed up for that.
Gary: It’s not like I regret that, but that’s just the reason why I rank it slightly lower. I have more baggage with that record. The places I heard the music and the people that liked the songs—it was a place I never expected us to be in when we first started the band.
Ryan: Our first two records were known for being lo-fi. I love recording quickly and basically and stripped back, that’s where my sensibilities lie, but there was a point where we were sick of people saying that about our record and using it as a derogatory term—“Oh it sounds like it was recorded really quickly and cheaply.” With this album we were like, "Let’s not give them that excuse.”
Ryan: We worked with Alex [Kapranos, lead singer of Franz Ferdinand and producer of MNWNW] for eight weeks in Bryan Adams' studio then we had it mixed by Andy Wallace in New York. It’s a really high-fi record. You’ve gotta love your crossover record in some ways because it’s what sets you up for the rest of your career. I love that we have a crossover record in our catalogue; it took us into the mainstream world in the UK. Not every band gets one of those records and I’m really proud of it in that way.
Gary: Alex is really into pop music and we were trying to make a more universally pop record, one that was less abrasive. I also think that record has some of our best moments, like “Be Safe” with Lee Renaldo. As much as I’m sick of “Men’s Needs,” I remember when we wrote that I thought it was the ultimate Cribs song.
2. In the Belly of the Brazen Bull (2012)
Gary: This is the record where we had the most ideas and were the most inspired. We had so many different sections and we ended up putting them all in there. In some ways the current record—For All My Sisters—was a reaction against that, we tried to strip it back to more simplistic songwriting. I rank it higher than my brothers because there was an idealism in that record. Dave Fridmann encouraged us to try and utilize every idea we had. That’s the way that he is: He really likes things to be almost overwhelming in a way.
Ryan: We were also really into Innuendo by Queen and part of it was they were aware that they were making their last record so as a result it’s a really expansive record.
Why did it feel like it might be your last?
Gary: There were weird problems going and the times when we were writing were the times we were getting on the best, so that’s why we were writing a lot. Johnny had left and it felt weird because I almost felt like some sections of the old guard magazine press were writing us off and ignoring that Men’s Needs… had been our most successful album, and still is! We felt we had something to prove so we pulled out all the stops. I put so many harmonies and counter melodies and little things in the headphones for people to find. When we went to Abbey Road we were the first band to ever use every Pro Tools track. The Abbey Road system was struggling to keep up! Which, for a band like us was weird. We made our first record on 8-track!
Ryan: We were trying to make our masterwork and even yeah, this could be our last record so we’ve got to indulge every idea or whim that we have that we think will make it really great. We’d always wanted to record at Abbey Road, so we did that, let’s do a track with Steve Albini, we did that. Dave Fridmann was a producer we’d been trying to lock down for a few records, but he was always so busy with The Flaming Lips that it never worked out. So this time we waited till he was free. We ticked off a lot of aspirations. It did mean a lot to us. We’d covered a lot of ground, but made something cohesive at the end of it. That record really encapsulated what we wanted to do as a band.
1. The Cribs (2003)
Ryan: My favorite is always the first record. I like this one the best because it reminds me of a time when we were making music and it wasn’t our "career." We recorded this in East London at Toe Rag Studios [The White Stripes, Tame Impala, The Kills]. The studio was specifically made to be exactly the same spec as they had in the 60s. It’s where Billy Childish records all his records. It took one week and cost $1400. We loved the idea of recording it all analogue and on tape, but it was also really cheap. We were just making an album because we had some songs and Wichita came into the studio while we were in there and they ended up signing us. They wanted to just put it out as is.
Gary: We started recording it in the summer of 2003 and Ross was 18 and, me and Ryan were 22. Originally when Wichita were interested in us Ross was too young to sign the contract. So we had to wait.
Ryan: That was really frustrating because it meant we had to go work in the factory for another few months—our dad’s toilet roll factory!
Gary: We didn’t have any grand designs, we just wanted to sound like The Beatles. We just wanted to record it live and see how it sounded. That’s why we love it: it’s just dead innocent. No contrivance at all. Songs like “You Were Always the One” is not about anyone or anything, that’s like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” or “She Loves You.” The lyrics were influenced by Ronnie Spector and The Shirelles. At that time rock ‘n’ roll bands were singing about sex and drugs—that cliché 70s, aviator-wearing guy with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth, Gibson guitars. We had little Mustangs and Hoffners and we just thought we’d write little love songs that we hoped would be universal. It seemed kind of radical or ridiculous and that’s why I love it when I look back. It was so uncynical. It was genuinely exciting and naïve. We were really into Beat Happening and K Records bands and they have bands with really innocent lyrics so that factored into it too.
Gary: Everyone’s debut is the most pure and for us it represents the idealism of the band. I think we all feel fondly towards it.
The Cribs' indecipherable scoring system…
The Cribs' Individual Lists:
5. The Cribs
4. In the Belly of the Brazen Bull
3. New Fellas
2. Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever
1. For All My Sisters
5. Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever
4. In the Belly of the Brazen Bull
3. New Fellas
2. For All My Sisters
1. The Cribs
5. New Fellas
4. Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever
3. The Cribs
2. In the Belly of the Brazen Bull
1. For All My Sisters
Kim Taylor Bennett loves The Cribs. She's on Twitter.