The Cribs

For All My Sisters

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The Cribs have worked with plenty of A-list collaborators over the years, including Edwyn Collins, Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos, Johnny Marr, and Steve Albini. Nevertheless, having Ric Ocasek produce For All My Sisters was an especially inspired choice, considering that the band conceived of the album as a set of pop songs (an Albini-produced punk album was set to be released soon after). Much of the Cribs' charm comes from their volatile mix of rough and sweet -- especially on their previous album In the Belly of the Brazen Bull -- so focusing on just one of those aspects could have diminished their music. However, few of the band's other attempts to polish their style have sounded this natural. Ocasek adds just enough new wave sheen to make the most of For All My Sisters' sizeable hooks: Witness the handclaps and buzzy synths on "Mr. Wrong" or "Summer of Chances"' chugging riffs. Touches like these recall not only the Cars but also bring out the side of the Cribs that resembles Weezer, minus that band's endearing and infuriating tangents. Like Rivers Cuomo at his most appealingly vulnerable, there's an emotional purity and directness to the Jarman brothers' songwriting on For All My Sisters. "Finally Free" opens the album with nostalgia that's as ambivalent as it is bittersweet; Gary Jarman sings "why do I still dream of your house?" with a distance that avoids wallowing. Indeed, the Jarmans have become increasingly fine lyricists over the years -- it's not your average punk-pop song that boasts a refrain as poetic as "Burning for No One"'s "like a candle on a vacant table." Sometimes For All My Sisters' misfit anthems are almost too consistent, but the Cribs avoid monotony with songs like "Pink Snow," a seven-minute epic that could be a sequel to "Be Safe" from Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever (another album that showcased the band's pop side expertly) and "An Ivory Hand," which turns guitar heroics and lighters-aloft choruses into their version of a power ballad. As exciting as the promise of the band going full Albini is, For All My Sisters shows that a cleaned-up Cribs can also be pretty thrilling.

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