In the Belly of the Brazen Bull

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Johnny Marr left the Cribs before they made In the Belly of the Brazen Bull, and it's not hard to notice the difference between this album and the one they recorded with Marr, 2009's Ignore the Ignorant. Nearly all of the polish Marr and producer Nick Launay added to that set is gone here, and the Jarman brothers return to their classic trio lineup with an explosion of pent-up energy. "Glitters Like Gold" roars out of the gate, and the first half of the album follows suit, with the Jarmans reveling in the volume of songs like "Jaded Youth" and "Anna"'s crunchy power pop. the Cribs flew the '90s indie rock revival flag way before it was fashionable, and they remain true to those roots on the Weezery shout-along "Come on, Be a No-One" and the punky Chicago love letter "Chi-Town," which the Cribs recorded with Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio studio in that very city. The band also recorded with Dave Fridmann in New York and at London's Abbey Road, underscoring how ably the Jarmans blend American indie with a very British outlook. Much like Male Bonding, they're past masters at mixing noise and vulnerability in a way that conceals as much as it reveals, especially on "Confident Men" and "Uptight." As on previous albums, the Cribs stretch out on In the Belly of the Brazen Bull's second half, but they do so with a newfound confidence and eclecticism that could come from the time that Marr spent with them. Flitting from the acoustic ballad "I Should Have Helped" to "Stalagmites"' atonal riffs, spoken word vocals, and glockenspiel before landing on the self-explanatory epic closer "Arena Rock Encore with Full Cast," the album's weirder moments let the Jarmans have their big choruses and harmonies and their brash experiments, too. Yet even on the wooliest tracks, the Jarmans sound younger here than they have in some time. After all, age may bring wisdom, but sometimes that wisdom means celebrating youthful exuberance. Raw but accomplished, tuneful yet noisy, on In the Belly of the Brazen Bull the Cribs are more comfortable with their contradictions than ever.

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