Like so many bands that have fallen within the much-loved indie bracket, The Cribs’ career can be split into two segments. Before 2007, they released two raw, but rollicking, records that quickly cemented them as one of underground indie’s most exciting bands. Post-2007, they had crossed over into major label territory in the States, and were about to enter more refined waters. But The Cribs were never going to sail too smoothly.
Released a staggering ten years ago, Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever was the Wakefield trio’s great leap forward, taking the shards of melody that punctuated their previous albums – 2003’s The Cribs and The New Fellas (2005), respectively – and buffering them into a sonic sheen, while still maintaining the core aesthetics of the Jarman clan’s manifesto.
As importantly, its title alluded to the feminist viewpoint of the band, something they’ve continued to support throughout their career. It’s a message of eschewing gender definition, vetoing stereotypes and accepting talent, drive and determination for what it is. The battle still goes on a decade
later, but The Cribs and their contemporaries helped educate a new wave of music fans on the importance of gender equality.
Once touring had been wrapped up for The New Fellas, and the soon-to-be-customary one-off single ‘You’re Gonna Lose Us’ had given the band another top 30 entry, the trio – Gary and Ryan on bass/guitar respectively, and Ross on drums – signed a deal with Warner Bros. in the US, while retaining indie label Wichita for the UK. This move proved crucial, as flowing within the veins of Men’s Needs… is a wonderful juxtaposition of accessibility and individuality, matching molten riffs with clear-eyed choruses.
Decamping to Vancouver, the Jarmans had originally opted for Sonic Youth legend Lee Ranaldo to take the production reins, but along the way had decided instead to give the role to contemporary Alex Kapranos, who was then taking time off from Franz Ferdinand’s fraught third album. However, Ranaldo wasn’t completely abandoned; the group made a trip to New York and cut one of their most ferocious, probing songs, ‘Be Safe’, which matches the intense, caustic stanzas of Ranaldo with Ryan’s throat-shredding whine.
Kapranos’ sensibility behind the production chair ensured that The Cribs were a long way from selling out, but now had a sound that was streamlined and steady. Take the more bittersweet numbers that made up two of the record’s four singles, ‘Moving Pictures’ and ‘I’m A Realist’. The trademark choppy riffs of Ryan, pitched between ’80s-esque British brawn and ’90s-indebted American angst, remained, but were cleaner, more introspective and full of youthful longing. Both songs showed a more delicate, but no less jagged, side to the Jarman brothers, and captured the zeitgeist of the angular era.
Lead single ‘Men’s Needs’ was propelled by a chiming, incessant guitar motif and neat
vocal interplay. It gave the band their first top 20 hit and has continued to soundtrack indie dancefloors across the nation. Even when the record rocks hard, the band keep the grizzle at bay – ‘Ancient History’ opens with a balls-to-the-wall blaze but soon settles into something more languid, while ‘Major Titling’s Victory’ is an urgent slab of Ryan’s frenzied riffery and Gary’s paint-stripping howl.
‘I’ve Tried Everything’ sees the band run to Brighton, while ‘My Life Flashed Before My Eyes’ gives Ryan a chance to lament in his unique Yorkshire brogue. After the record’s release, they would move even further away from their old sound with 2009’s Ignore the Ignorant, which saw Johnny Marr marry into the Jarman name.
Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever continued the band’s purple patch but elevated them into mass appeal, and since its release the trio have continued to occupy an unusual place, halfway between mainstream adulation and eternal cultdom. They certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.