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Lovely Bastards 

Morrissey, Art Brut and the proper way to nick from John Lennon

Tuesday, Jul 3 2007
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? ALL YOU NEED IS MOZ: Saw Morrissey at the Bowl a few weeks back; never got a chance to scribble much about it. (This was my first Moz sighting since interviewing him in January.) It was one of those milky-perfect Hollywood nights: mild, quiet, warmish, and pregnant with summer, night-blooming jasmine and moonflowers. The walk up to the Bowl from Hollywood Boulevard was more or less hassle free and pleasant; it was such a balmy dream of an evening, even the insane homeless gentleman strolling past us seemed late for a hot date and had no time for chitchat.

The concert was a full-blown homecoming for Morrissey, who bantered with the audience about Echo Park and the Cat & Fiddle pub like a regular Angeleno, and paid his respects to our most august band shell by making fun of himself (joking that he followed in the footsteps of Bowl “legends” Phyllis Diller and Charles Nelson Reilly). Truly, though, Moz commanded the stage with the ease, humor and gravitas of a real Hollywood Bowl diva. (On those three counts, I’m sure Sarah Vaughan would have appreciated the show.) In a flashy white suit — rhapsodizing “Hooray for Hollywood!” without much irony at all — Morrissey looked as cozy in the Bowl as a pearl nestled in its shell.

While the entire show was marvelous, I particularly enjoyed one upbeat rocker of such stature — we’re talking instantly memorable songwriting — I assumed it was a vintage B-side I simply hadn’t heard before (no doubt inspired by a Shelagh Delaney play I hadn’t read!). The lyrics are brilliant, topped by the priceless refrain, “There’s so much destruction/All over the world/And all you can do is complain about me.” It’s bouncy and wry (“You don’t like me but you love me/Either way you’re wrong . . .”) — and, like all good Moz, serious by turns (“You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone”). Whether this song is about a relationship with a lover or with the world, or both (or neither), it certainly represents Morrissey at his pithy best.

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I found out later the song is cheekily titled “All You Need Is Me,” and has yet to be released. Moz has only been singing it in concert since about April; naturally, though, you may see several terrible live videos of it, apparently shot using Barbie phones, on YouTube. Tell you what, though: “All You Need Is Me” is a hit single in the making — dare I suggest, a hit single and title track for some future LP? (Really: What a fine album title that would make!)

And about that title — “All You Need Is Me”: It takes a certain kind of wit to rewrite an iconic, sacred John Lennon lyric with any aplomb, and fellow northern English/Irishman Morrissey is certainly up to the task. (I’m sure Lennon would approve. You just know those two would have gotten on. What lovely bastards!)

? HE’S (ALSO) JUST A JEALOUS GUY. If Moz has a little John-on-the-brain at the moment, he is not alone. Locally, of course, we’re happily atwitter with recent Paul McCartney in-stores and celebrations (see our coverage of his recent Amoeba-do on page 19), but John is also toppermost in people’s minds. (Witness the brisk sales of the recent John Lennon covers album, Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur. Besides serving a good cause, this curious comp notably focuses on John Lennon’s solo material; its more provocative moments include Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”-esque feminization of “Mother,” and Green Day’s beyond-puzzling take on “Working Class Hero,” which they performed at the American Idol finale.)

The impact of Lennon’s lyrics can even be felt on It’s a Bit Complicated, the new album from England’s winningest gimmick band, Art Brut. Now, as a rather too-huge fan of Art Brut’s debut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, I will admit I’m disappointed by this post-hypestorm sophomore effort. As you may gather from the title alone, Bang Bang Rock & Roll was driven by a relentless need to surprise and delight, to be loved and liked, and to revel in rock & roll fun. This album, while admirable in many ways, betrays a bit of jadedness — though with what, I’m not exactly sure. Love, probably.

At least, Art Brut don’t seem too jaded about music: If nothing else, this album is a treasure-trove of rewritten lyrics and pilfered song titles. The sad-sack “Late Sunday Evening” fucks with — yes — “All You Need Is Love,” as singer Eddie Argos incants, “There’s nothing that’s been done that can’t be undone . . .” (bummer!). Another down-in-the-mouther, about a sexually unsatisfying relationship (surprise!), is called “Jealous Guy.” Yet another messed-up-relationship song, “Post Soothing Out,” again twists Lennon toward depressing ends: “Every day it’s just like starting over/We try so hard but we keep on falling over . . .”

But Art Brut borrow phrases from all over (though their sound, anchored by guitarist Ian Catskilkin, is still solidly post-punk). In fact, one might argue that in their postmodern kleptomania, the band they’re ripping off the most is the Pooh Sticks. You know — the Welsh indie band from the ’90s who pushed the boundaries of copyright ethics with song titles like “Heroes and Villains,” “Sweet Baby James” and “Indie Pop Ain’t Noise Pollution.”

But like the Pooh Sticks, Art Brut steal out of love, and their fandom goes far deeper than mere lingo theft: The first three songs on this new album are about music. More specifically, they’re about loving music, for better and worse.

To wit: Album opener “Pump Up the Volume” (!) is literally a monologue about trying to turn up the stereo to hear a song — while making out with someone. In other words, it’s about a really great song and/or a really not-great make-out. Either way, it’s romantic about only one thing: pop music. “Direct Hit” represents the converse: At a disco, a catchy dance tune brings two shy, young loners together.

Maybe the most romantic-musical tune is “Sounds of Summer,” about staying up all night with a friend (or lover?) making a mixed tape: “All through the night/They begin to take shape/From the crack of the vinyl/To the hiss of the tape . . ./Tapes that are full of the things we can’t say/To each other during the day . . .”

The irony is, as much as Argos lives for (and through) music, the album isn’t half as catchy as its predecessor. And, as anyone might have suspected from the start, Argos’ talk-sing delivery does get repetitive pretty fast. I know that’s his style: He’s so much the Everyman fan we all can relate to (chubby and whatnot), he’s not even a singer. Unfortunately, that’s a schtick with some severe built-in limitations. I still love Art Brut, though, in part because Argos (who seems to be their main lyricist) aspires to Morrissey-style wit, over and over and over. “People in Love” waxes pragmatic about a recent breakup (“People in love lie around and get fat/I didn’t want us to end up like that”), when likely as not, our narrator was the one getting dumped.

ART BRUT | It’s a Bit Complicated | Downtown

Reach the writer at ksullivan@laweekly.com

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