The Cribs

Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever

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With each album, the Cribs have gotten a little sharper and more focused, and nowhere is this clearer than on the brilliantly named Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever, the band's major-label debut. The Cribs enlisted Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos as producer, and it's a good match: while he doesn't impose too much of Franz's clockwork precision on the band, Kapranos reins in the Cribs' more shambling tendencies just enough to make Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever their most listenable, and diverse, work yet. The album kicks off with a slew of bouncy, angular songs about awkward relationships and killer crushes that sound like state-of-the-art British indie circa the late 2000s -- in particular, "Our Bovine Public"'s ridiculously catchy melody and punchy drums feel like the results of an experiment to fuse together Maxïmo Park, the Futureheads, and Good Shoes in some secret lab. "Girls Like Mystery" and "I'm a Realist" (which states, bluntly, "I'm an indecisive piece of sh*t") follow suit with more witty lyrics, sweet harmonies, and big, rousing choruses. As good as these songs are, they're so much in the template of this kind of British indie that they run the risk of sounding like caricatures. However, as Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever unfolds, the Cribs expand their sound. Interestingly, they distinguish themselves from other like-minded British bands by adding influences from American acts like Weezer and the Strokes. Ryan Jarman often sounds like a British Rivers Cuomo, especially on "Moving Pictures," while jaunty, vulnerable songs about emptiness like "I've Tried Everything" and "My Life Flashed Before My Eyes" would fit right in with the work of Julian Casablancas and company. "Be Safe" boasts a poetic rant by Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo and sounds, in the best possible way, like some great lost alt-rock song from 1995. It's easily the best song on the album, which is kind of a shame since the Cribs (probably) can't recruit Ranaldo to be their full-time frontman. Fortunately, the tracks that follow it -- especially "Shoot the Poets," the pretty, slightly twangy acoustic song that closes the album -- show that the Cribs' music can't be typecast quite as easily as earlier songs suggested. The Cribs aren't strikingly original -- yet -- but this album sums up where they've been, and where they could go, nicely.

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