On their 2004 self-titled debut, The Cribs set themselves apart from the so-called “landfill indie” bands, in spite of the generic name and guitar-bass-drums setup: The Cribs had a wit and verve their compatriots couldn’t match. Part of that came from the trio’s minimal instrumentation, which produced an endearingly awkward strain in getting the songs close to their Strokes-aping goals. For their fourth album, The Cribs have taken in former Smiths/Modest Mouse guitarist Johnny Marr, producing a whole new kind of strain.
The difference is audible from the rumbling opening chords of “We Were Aborted.” Though the group has gotten glossier with every album, there’s no denying the new fullness of its sound. Which, ironically, makes it harder to hear what makes The Cribs distinctive. Marr is there, doubling guitar lines, providing chunky-chord backdrops, and generally making the band more radio-friendly. The Cribs are still terrific (though increasingly dour) lyricists: “Aborted” is a scathing attack on Maxim-esque lad mags (“mid-shelf masturbation leaves a smear on half the nation”), and the obligatory six-minute epic (“City Of Bugs”) is just fine. But outside of other fleet highlights (“Emasculate Me,” “Victims Of Mass Production”), where all four members get streamlined enough to work up momentum, they often sound chunky in a way that suggests they haven’t fully integrated Marr’s lighter touch.