I’ve been wanting to write something about Art Brut since I first heard the first song on their first record (which happened several months back). Seriously. Mid–first song, I was like, O-kay! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
Art Brut’s music is simple, like their name. (Which is no doubt why I wanted to write about it. Easy 800 words!) I understood it immediately, and I understood why it was good. That’s always a plus for a music lover who wanders the world hitting her head with her fist and asking no one in particular, “Why am I supposed to like [insert name of boring, no-hooks, bullshit (stoner!) “collective”]? Why is [insert experimental, meta-genre, jazz-electronic (stoner!) band] supposed to be any good? Why is this [insert sacred cow, outsider (so crazy I wish he were a stoner) singer-songwriter] a ‘genius’?”
Whatever happened to the days when taking drugs actually made for better music? I mean, if everyone who is stoned or medicated or otherwise fucked up today could be as good as Miles Davis was at his most incredibly fried-out-of-his-lugnut (or John Lennon, or Paul McCartney! for that matter), well, I’d be one very happy pro-drug-type drug pusher.
In short: Art Brut’s Bang Bang Rock & Roll passes the (non)drug test with flying primary colors. Unfortunately it doesn’t pass the cheap/easily available test yet: Despite all their buzz and whatnot, Art Brut still don’t have an American record deal. You can get Bang Bang Rock & Roll on iTunes or buy it on import for like 20 bucks, and I would recommend one of those. You gotta hear this band. Really. You won’t think they’re as good as I do, but at least you’ll know them. Then you can say, “Oh, sure, Art Brut. Been there. English know-it-alls, yeah? But, like, more likeable than the others?”
The scuttlebutt from Mother England is that apparently between Art Brut and the Arctic Monkeys (What’s with the “Ar” by the way? Pirate stuff?), Art Brut are considered a bit old/intellectual/smartypants. It’s true, too. But, excuse me: Since when is that a rock & roll crisis? Seems to me a couple other fairly decent bands have been accused of such crimes. Just for starters, the Velvet Underground — who the album’s title track pokes fun at. (“I can’t stand the sound of the Velvet Underground . . . the second time around.”) Not to mention a little college band called the Pixies. And yes, I would like to be the first person to state in print that I feel Art Brut owes something subtle but crucial to ?the Pixies.
Sure, Art Brut are ready-made critics’ darlings, really, all pithy & knowing & shit; the first song on their album’s called “Formed a Band.” (“We’re going to be the band that writes the song/That makes Israel and Palestine get along . . . We’re going to write a song as universal as Happy Birthday/That makes sure everybody knows that everything is going to be okay.”) Of course a critic wants to write about them, write an album about their album. That’s basically what Art Brut has done: Bang Bang Rock & Roll is an album about itself. An album about rock & roll written by apparent rock & roll outsiders. Shit, Art Brut are so self-aware, if they wore lipstick and added a sax, they’d be glam.
But none of this would mean shit to me if it weren’t for the album’s humanity and romanticism. Firstly, when the “singer” guy, Eddie Argos (who’s more of a “talker,” really), says he wants to write a song that “makes sure everybody knows that everything is going to be okay,” he’s actually not being an ironic shithead. He really wants to write a song to make sure everybody knows that everything is going to be okay. And that’s okay.
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But if Art Brut had only ever recorded the torch song “Emily Kane,” they would get a free frozen yogurt in my book. It’s a true-story song (according to band myth) about the singer’s ex-girlfriend, and the fact that he’s still in love with her after 10 years apart, and he can’t remember why they broke up. (“If memory serves, we’re still on a break!”) He’s a bit obsessed, really — “Every girl I’ve seen since/Looks just like you when I squint.” But it’s not creepy or stalkery. It’s apparent in the sane and natural cadence of his delivery that he’s in love with Emily Kane. And in the way he shouts her full name with such affection, I can’t help but think of young Billy Idol singing about Kathy McGowan on Generation X’s “Ready Steady Go” (speaking of fantastically self-conscious songs about pop music), and then I like this song all the more.
I sense in the way “Emily Kane” builds, and his vocals intensify, and the lyrics mount one another, that this Argos guy is a generous soul who means well toward the girl who broke his heart, and he really, truly does love her. Because rather than whine like an emo-bitch, or growl like a dumbass, or act like Mr. Cool in the face of pain, he chooses Love, and to magnify the glory of the one he loved: “I hope this song finds you fame/I want school kids on buses singing your name!”
It’s a funny thing about Art Brut, though: What makes them special — that is, the singer — is also what will probably limit them from becoming a truly great band. Argos does one thing, more or less. He talks. He talks and then talks a little more. It gets a bit samey after a while.
Then again, at moments, it’s all you need. It’s simple.