Single Review: The Crookes – Play Dumb

By on Tuesday, 14th January 2014 at 12:00 pm

Anyone who’s been following The Crookes for any length (pardon the pun) of time is aware that the trademark of Crookes’ frontman George Waite has always been his long, floppy, ginger hair. But before they headed out to an isolated church in the mountains of Northern Italy to record their third album ‘Soapbox’, Waite’s locks were shorn and left forgotten on the floor, and away they went. This drastic event indicated to me that major changes were afoot. I have been pondering the motive for this haircut for a long time. My own brother, who is probably about George’s height, cuts his hair like that often because he’s simply too lazy to deal with it on a regular basis. And yes, my brother can be quite lazy.

Somehow though, I don’t think this radical new do of Waite’s came out of sheer laziness, nor was it simply cosmetic. Interestingly, the relative lack of hair on Waite’s head no doubt assisted in the filming of the band’s first video from the album, for brand new single ‘Play Dumb’. It’s the first single from the Sheffield band since the double A-sided ‘Bear’s Blood’ / ‘Dance in Colour’ single that was released in May 2013, the former of which represented a much harder, louder, uncompromising sound than had been previously proffered on their earlier releases. Post-‘Bear’s Blood’, I’d decided it was safe to say that their days of tracks with contemplative whistling were behind them, and the reveal of ‘Play Dumb’ supports this.

The first clue that ‘Play Dumb’ is something different shows up at the start of the video. Waite is sat at a table, looking at the camera, initially nervously so, playing with his hands, until the song begins with a discordant squeal of guitar and pounding drums. As the camera focuses in on him, you can sense something has changed. He’s ready for his close-up, and in this new close-up, he wants to show everyone he’s not the same boy we used to know. Even the half-smile he gives us isn’t 100% true, with what seems to me like a bit of an evil glint in his eye. And he is about to tell us a story.


The song begins with, “I’ve had my mid-life crisis by the age of 25 / you say my head ain’t right / I’m tired of myself but don’t know why”: the protagonist of the story is unhappy with the way his life is going but doesn’t know what’s wrong with him. The intriguing, important next line includes the song title, and the line is repeated later in the song: “I’m dirt under your thumb, not pretty enough to play dumb”. As the video goes on, we’re watching Waite being transformed with makeup, a dress, pearls and a wig into, dare I say it, a damn fine-looking woman. What this made me think of first is what terrible things us women go through, trying to make ourselves prettier to impress men. But the sentiment could also be applied to men too, if you consider that while women are supposed to be soft, pretty things, in contrast, men are supposed to be tough and hard as nails, and some men aren’t made to be like that. Either ideal created by our society is hard, sometimes impossible, to live up to.

In lyricist Daniel Hopewell’s world, where if you are very pretty (or handsome for a man), you have the option of acting or playing dumb, because your prettiness leads to you not to have to worry about the mundane things everyone else has to. Isn’t this what image-conscious Hollywood tells us? If you’re gorgeous, man or woman, you don’t necessarily need a brain, and your career is more or less made. However, if you aren’t pretty enough and rather the “dirt under your thumb”, forget it, you don’t get the same concessions. By the time we get to verse two, there is no question that Hopewell is talking about the band’s own “poster boys” image. Like it or not, the Crookes are a very good-looking group of guys, which I’m sure has had its advantages and disadvantages for their career trajectory. “I’d rather you despise my every move” is an aggressive line and not something I would have ever imagined Waite singing back in the ‘Chasing After Ghosts’ era or even the latest ‘Hold Fast’ one: it’s indicative of a self-informed realisation that it’s better to be feared (or hated) than loved. Judging from the reactions I’ve seen from the boys playing live, there are an awful lot of people out there who absolutely adore them, but maybe that adoration comes at a cost?

You’re probably wondering why I’ve avoided the chorus up until now. I’m not a fan of it. The subtext of the song appears to be that the voice of the song is not living up to his woman’s expectations. Something has gone awry in their relationship, because he doesn’t need her anymore, and he’s bored with her. He wants her to “wake up” and take stock of the situation, while at the same time he refuses and “won’t change to get you off”. The line comes across as a clumsy way of saying “I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam” like Popeye, and it’s so crass – it wouldn’t be a surprise, since the song seems to be sung with such a sneer to the world – truth be told, it makes me uncomfortable. Maybe that was the point: the press release for the new single has Hopewell saying ‘Soapbox’ “…certainly isn’t a happy, carefree album”.

‘Play Dumb’ is catchy for sure, but its melody and hook aren’t as bright when stacked up against those of the first single of ‘Hold Fast’, ‘Afterglow’. The timing of this release seems particularly apt: the single drops the week before the band are due back in the States for SXSW, so we’ll have to see what the Americans make of it. Overall, this song seems to indicate the Crookes have taken off in a new direction, so the real question is, what will the rest of the album sound like? We shall be waiting.


The first single from the Crookes’ third album ‘Soapbox’, ‘Play Dumb’, will be released on the 3rd of March on Fierce Panda Records; ‘Soapbox’ will follow on the 14th of April. The band are scheduled to appear at SXSW 2014 in Austin in March.

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5 Responses

12:00 pm
14th January 2014

New post: Single Review: The Crookes @TheCrookes – Play Dumb:

12:38 pm
14th January 2014

So do we like or dislike the new direction? “@tgtf: New post: Single Review: The Crookes @TheCrookes – Play Dumb:

12:43 pm
14th January 2014

RT @theprintedword: So do we like or dislike the new direction? “@tgtf: New post: Single Review: The Crookes @TheCrookes – Play Dumb: http:…

5:59 am
15th January 2014

RT @theprintedword: So do we like or dislike the new direction? “@tgtf: New post: Single Review: The Crookes @TheCrookes – Play Dumb: http:…

12:09 pm
17th January 2014

RT @tgtf: New post: Single Review: The Crookes @TheCrookes – Play Dumb:


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