The fact that Jim Shaw can be seen on the front cover in a Boss Hog T-shirt shows that something could well be up; if there's any band that would seem to be an opposite to Cranes' artistic vision, Boss Hog might be a prime candidate. Then again, Cranes have always had their rougher side, and the almost balls-out thrash metal riffing part way through "Fourteen" isn't totally unexpected. Population Four signaled the first major change in the lineup of Cranes for a while with the departure of bassist Cope. Possibly more interesting was what happened within the band: Jim Shaw stepped from behind the drums to take over lead guitar duties in full, Francombe switched to bass, while new member Manu Ros settled behind the drum kit. The band is ultimately the most conventional it's ever been on Population Four. The same sense of space, off-kilter touches in the mix and the like remain, but more than one song could almost be straightforward, even upbeat indie rock (as the sweet chime of "Can't Get Free" and the quite lovely semi-folk of "Sweet Unknown" show). It's a bit disconcerting at points, but in general the group pulls it off very well, while tracks like "On Top of the World" show the same combination of harsh and attractive as many past cuts. One interesting tweak comes in the production: after self-producing all its '90s work, the band recruited Breeders producer Mark Freegard to oversee things. Ros' playing is steady enough but doesn't seek to fully replicate the relentless, steady march of the band's earliest work. Alison Shaw's vocals retain the clarity that fully settled in on Loved while still sounding like they always have. "Stalk" is notable for being the singing debut of Jim Shaw, singing in a husky whisper slightly hidden behind the main acoustic melody.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett