Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Payola Review

Payola 1, 2 & 3
The Cribs
Wichita Records

When Payola was announced, it just seemed wrong to me. The Cribs didn’t seem to be the kind of band that would release a cash-in best of – and surely that’s something bands do at the end of their career, right? The cheeky title felt like a winking attempt to sidestep criticism, but in doing so acknowledged they felt criticism was justified and inevitable. But if there’s one thing the Jarman brothers can do, it’s get the fans excited. So instead of a disc of ‘hits’, we’ve got three, which all come together to tell their ten year history.

Payola 1 is the standard collection of singles and favourites, with one unreleased track on the end. They’ve decided not to structure it chronologically, so it feels more like the setlist of an amazing gig rather than an examination of the progress they’ve made over the last decade.

Whilst it feels like a missed opportunity to tell their unique story through the sounds they made, in this case, I think it works. It’s a pop album at its core; great songwriting across the board. The only identifiable changes are in the production; if someone came to this having never heard the band, it would be hard to pin songs to points in their career. Which is an odd way to say that they have consistently produced memorable, catchy songs. Only the very early songs, full of charm and naivety and the more complex arrangements of the Ignore The Ignorant era tracks stand out as something a little different.

It’s nice that this isn’t just a collection of singles; live and band favourite Be Safe, featuring Lee Ranaldo, is in there and the aforementioned newbie is Johnny Marr era outtake Leather Jacket Love Song. Perhaps it is the lack of shine on the production, but it certainly has the feel of the younger days it references, though isn’t quite a classic (excellent video aside).

The exclusion of Martell, Baby Don’t Sweat or even Housewife may be questioned by the hardcore, but the record basically fulfils its role; it tells you all the need to know about The Cribs across 22 tracks.

Payola 2 is a collection of B-sides and rarities that comes with deluxe versions of Payola 1. It is a strong collection of 18 tracks and certainly of interest to someone like me who has the albums but few of the singles. Though not quite in the realms of The Smiths or Radiohead for quality B-Sides, they do sit closer to The Beatles or The Manics – there are a couple of exceptional tracks here, but largely the band made the right choices.

A couple of unexpected sonic sidesteps like Glandular Fever Got The Best Of Me and Don’t Believe In Me sit amongst noisy, scuzzy slabs of Cribs-esqe Indie rock, just with less hooks. The pleasure is in seeing how they sit by the tracks on Payola 1. Advice From A Roving Artist is a blueprint for Be Safe, though in this case, it does stand on it’s own two feet as an essential entry into their canon.

Don’t You Want To Be Relevent? is an absolute gem that shows in 2007 these guys were unstoppable. Better Than Me recorded by our good friends at Greenmount Studios is another highlight and So Hot Now is a blinder – all would have made great A-sides.

Payola 2 does a great thing of making their A-Sides seem even greater, just through virtue of that fact most bands would be pleased to just have Payola 2 in their catalogue. Knowing what they can achieve at their best justifies their decisions here to leave tracks as B-Sides. It’s an interesting lesson.

Payola 3 is a collection of demos that was given away free with NME. The draw was the inclusion of the first three recordings ever made under the title ‘The Cribs’. These are especially sweet, sounding just like the kind of thing you’d hear any band in Wakefield record and as raw as you will ever hear them.

Diclomax Retard naughtily steals from Nirvana’s Even In His Youth for it’s verse and the Grunge / Punk influences are worn proudly on the sleeve. Like Payola 2, it is a great education for a band. How did they go from this, to Another Number and onwards (third track Melmac being the clue) ? It’s a brave thing to lay it all bare here, for everyone to see and hear.

The rest of the collection is not nearly as exciting. It does backup what made Payola 1 so good – at their heart these are just incredibly well written and constructed pop songs. Even here, in demo form they work just as welll. Some collections of this type would end up showing the vital role a producer can have in making a band work and work and work on perfecting their writing, putting the chorus in the right place, placing each hook and melody with precision. This shows they did that themselves, almost from day one.

Even little touches like the rasping hi-hat in Men’s Needs; I had always presumed it was a production touch, but here it is. I’d have liked more outtakes and unreleased stuff, but hey, it’s free, so who am I to complain?

The three records tell a compelling story. And they are an excellent document in showing why The Cribs mattered to so many. The only lingering question is whether there will be anything else to follow it. With all members now performing with other people with varying degrees of seriousness and with this record - a career retrospective no less, not being promoted with a world, or even a proper UK tour, you have to wonder if all that has become a bit tiring, no matter how much they may love it.

But as the year winds on, I expect there will be further, fan friendly nods of appreciation. An arena world tour is not The Cribs way of passing on their thanks. But, if anything, a fan focussed thank you would be more likely to suggest this could be the end.

In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull felt like an attempted return to their roots, but a lot of bands end that way; going back to where it started. Even that Abbey Road style ending, could that be seen as a sign?

Whatever happens, I think we can be sure they’ll never stop creating music. It’s who these three people are, and more than anything across these three records, a passion for creating music that expresses that inescapable need and reason to do something (anything), to celebrate life and be true to yourself is not just evident, it is the lifeblood of every single moment.

Dean Freeman

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