Pop-minded punk trio the Cribs recruits Johnny Marr for 'Ignore the Ignorant'

When Johnny Marr joined Modest Mouse a few years back, fans of both rightfully scratched their heads.

Whereas the Washington indie band had a reputation for screwing with pop conventions, letting the inherent weirdness of main songwriter Isaac Brock mark strange even the relatively accessible likes of 2004’s “Good News for People Who Like Bad News,” Marr had always been something of a classicist. As the musical mastermind behind the Smiths, the English guitarist crafted some of the most enduring, original and impeccably constructed songs of the ’80s. Sure, he broke new ground, but he was careful to not disturb the bones of any dinosaurs.

It made more sense when Marr announced last year that he’d cast his lot with brothers Gary, Ryan, and Ross Jarman, better known as the Cribs. The trio from Wakefield, England, plays a brand of pop-minded punk rock that’s intricate but never fussy, explosive but at the same time restrained. On their excellent third album, 2007’s “Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever,” the Cribs proved themselves world-class tunesmiths and sharpeners of hooks. Were it not for their brash playing and cynical worldview, they’d probably be superstars on both sides of the Atlantic.

Marr joined up just in time to help write and record the Cribs’ fourth album, “Ignore the Ignorant” (Warner Bros.). More so than “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” the Modest Mouse album on which Marr (evidently) appeared, “Ignorant” bears obvious signs of the former Smith’s presence. The placid jangle of “Save Your Secrets” and ever-so-slight rockabilly-style reverb of the title track hark back to the Smiths’ heyday, and even on tracks where Marr’s influence is less apparent, there’s a sense his involvement bolstered the Cribs’ confidence and reinforced what they were already doing plenty well on their own.

As on “Men’s Needs,” singer Ryan Jarman spits cryptic lyrics that seem to detail humanity’s various failings. He’s at his best when he breaks into his raw-throated Cobanian yells, but even when he plays it cool, he’s smart, intense and funny — all adjectives that apply to the band as a whole. Marr or not, the Cribs have yet to receive their stateside due.

— Kenneth Partridge

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