Icon and inspiration that he is, it's difficult to avoid the feeling that Johnny Marr's presence in The Cribs was something of a disruption. Nowhere was this more evident than Ignore The Ignorant, the one and only album on which the legendary ex-Smiths man featured. Desperately attempting to entwine his distinctive jangle with the Jarmans own vigorous youthful abandon, the end result, although by no means bad, simply portrayed a band attempting to be something that it isn't. Marr's addition did bring about some positives, and did plenty to bolster the band's already impressive live shows, but sadly his main influence was to stifle much of what made the Wakefield trio such a vital force to begin with.
With that in mind, it's perhaps unsurprising that they sound a much better band having reverted to the original line-up. In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull is, to all intents and purposes the album that all Cribs fans wanted to hear; one which harks back to the punky garage spirit of their first three records and marks a return to the grit and sweat largely polished over by Marr's addition. The growth that they've undergone these past four years is immediately evident, but they have nevertheless managed to retain that loose, sloppy charm which propelled them among the UK's best loved indie acts, and something that's once more integral to their success here.
All of the bands albums hitherto have been characterised by fabulous lead singles, and in that respect this one is no different. The priory released songs here - 'Chi-Town' and 'Come On, Be A No-One' are both classic Cribs, possessing an urgency, directness and brimming, effervescent energy which will inevitably see them join established numbers like 'Hey Scenesters!' and 'Men's Needs' among the assorted favourites. In the past, the remainders of their records have tended to be a mixed bag, but this one represents a step forward in that it remains pretty consistent throughout. You could argue that it experiences a slight dip in the immediate aftermath of 'Chi-Town,' but that pothole is more than evened out by earlier cuts such as 'Jaded Youth' and 'Uptight,' the likes of which are undeniable.
Things reach something of an apex in the final four tracks, something of a continuous suite which marks arguably their most adventurous artistic foray yet. Rounded off by the appropriately anthemic excess of 'Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast,' it's a perfectly coherent piece which displays the band's ambitions all while remaining close enough to their established sound so as to sound perfectly natural. That is in fact a notion which could effectively be applied to the entire record, one which sees the Jarmanís making an authentic return to their original successful formula whilst also making use of the advancements acquired since. It has its faults - as you'd expect from a band that thrives on imperfection - but it'd be tough to affront The Cribs given that they've just delivered their strongest work to date.