The Cribs, Heaven, London

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The Independent Culture

There was a time that The Cribs seemed highly unlikely to be anything other than grot rock also-rans.

That term, coined and commercialised by the NME, seemed synonymous with a whole movement of bands; a smattering of sub-Libertines pretty-boys who, with beer-stained vests, granddad’s brogues and the first Clash record tucked under their malnourished little elbows, set the mid-Noughties alight with a clutch of decent singles and some slightly lifeless debut albums.

The bands involved, momentarily hijacked by Dior Homme’s Byron-loving then head honcho Hedi Slimane, were supposed to fade away with next season’s collection. The Cribs, as inward-looking scene outsiders, were very much expected to go down with the ship; to disappear in a haze of opium and Oscar Wilde quotations like their contemporaries.

But four-years, a pop-star girlfriend and a US relocation later and The Cribs are somehow on a promotional tour for their forthcoming, as-yet-untitled fourth album.

That Johnny Marr (former guitarist in The Smiths as if you need reminding) is now a fully paid up member speaks volumes. That they are expected to transcend the sweaty, meat and potatoes punk of their earlier releases goes without saying.

Launching into their set with a handful of classic Cribs tracks (I’m A Realist, Hey Scenesters, Our Bovine Public) it’s clear from the off that the band’s star signing is effectively a trinket; a redundant force in a group that don’t really need him.

Thrashing out bar chords was never Johnny Marr’s forte and all the painted nails and Johnny Thunders-style posturing in the world can’t hide the fact he looks, dare I say it, a bit silly up there with these young scamps.

However, it would be unfair to judge The Cribs as a whole by the mainly pointless presence of their new guitarist. Much to the delight of their die-hard, ever raucous fan-base, the band seem more than willing to dust down the old hits, reminding us just how many great pocket-sized indie-anthems they have written in their time.

But this is a promotional tour after all, and as everybody knows, promotional tours mean new material. One gets the impression that The Cribs are testing the water with their new songs tonight – trying to gauge the reception each track gets to see if it’s a keeper.

If that’s the case then it could well be back to drawing board as almost every new song falls flat, greeted with indifference by the fans and played lethargically by a band that already seem bored of performing them.

The Cribs could argue that a slightly muddy sound and a thuggish display from security dampened proceedings prematurely but this would be skirting the real issue. The glaring fact is the new songs simply don’t cut the mustard and it’s the passion, outrage and pointed sentiment that originally helped the band outlast their peers, that the fans cry out for. What they get instead is a band seemingly confused by their longevity, starstruck by their newest member and struggling for fresh ideas.