Friday, 24 April 2009
Art Brut vs. Satan
Art Brut - Art Brut vs. Satan
released 20 April 2009 on Cooking Vinyl
Art Brut frontman Eddie Argos must be sick to the back teeth of Lily Allen. She cooks up half-baked rhymes about what it’s like to be in your twenties in the UK and thanks to a wave of patronage and suspicions of nepotism, she’s on magazine covers the length and breadth of the country and sells albums by the bucketload. Argos performs the same trick with more wit, insight and humility and could barely get arrested in his homeland.
Strangely for a man whose lyrics, singing style and arsenal of cultural references are so utterly British, Art Brut have had a fair amount of success in Germany. There, Argos is revered as an intellectual; so much so that a lecture was once given at Berlin University entitled The Depressive Dandy: The Lyrics of Eddie Argos.
When there’s one part of the world that holds you in such high regard, it must be hard to take when another part doesn’t. Art Brut left EMI just over a year ago and the fallout from that split is evident in the lyrical content of the Black Francis-produced Art Brut vs. Satan.
It all starts out so well. With Lily Allen misfiring, Jamie T AWOL, The Streets seemingly too successful to maintain the position as “geezer poet” and Kate Nash just plain irritating, the stage is set for Argos to become to lead voice of 21st Century Britain. On the first five tracks, he does this with aplomb. Only perhaps Jarvis Cocker in his Britpop heyday could tackle these subjects so well: the joy of childhood memories on DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake ("DC Comics and chocolate milkshake/Some things will always be great/DC Comics and chocolate milkshake/Even though I’m 28!"), one-night stands on What a Rush ("Under the covers, both naked/I hate to see an opportunity wasted") and the morning after the night before on Alcoholics Unanimous ("So many people I might have upset/I apologise to them all with the same group text").
Unfortunately, Argos and Art Brut can’t keep up this level of quality for long. If the first five tracks represent the beginning of a happy relationship, the next three are the messy break-up replete with insults, squabbling and name-calling and the final three tracks are the reconciliation; while everything is fine from the outside, the memories of the break-up linger, souring the relationship forever and meaning it will never be as good as it was.
Admittedly, this is an unusual analogy and one that clearly needs expanding upon. Track six, Demons Out!, is a vicious attack on the state of the music industry. We’ve all heard songs where artists moan that, believe it or not, record labels are just money-making machines run by ruthless businessmen with no scruples - quelle surprise. However, the refrain of “The record buying public - we hate them/This is Art Brut versus Satan” means this may the first instance of an artist directly insulting the listener in verse. As a member of said record-buying public, it’s hard to feel any compassion or warmth towards Argos after that. He doesn’t do himself any favours with the next two tracks either (Slap Dash for No Cash and The Replacements) where Argos’ primary concern seems to be to prove he’s more indie than you and has a better taste in music too. It all smacks of immaturity and pettiness; after all, it’s only rock n’ roll.
The last three songs bear the hallmarks of something good, but there’s an unshakeable feeling that something’s missing. In theory, they should be just as enjoyable as the beginning of the album, but are overshadowed by preceding events. The joy and energy that was so evident at the beginning of the album has turned into cynicism and sluggishness. Plus, for a band who are suited to little more than the three-minute verse-chorus-verse pop song, closing the album with a track that clocks in at over seven minutes (Mysterious Bruises) signifies a dearth of ideas (despite the inspired line of “I can’t remember anything I’ve done/I fought the floor and the floor won”).
As yet, nothing has been mentioned here about the music itself and that’s with good reason. Art Brut the band are nothing more than an average pub-rock band straddling the divide between pop-punk and Oi!. They’re nothing without their leader but despite their limitations, their sub-Green Day power chords are the perfect foil for Argos’ arch, ironic delivery. There’s little more to write about them than that, other to say that after three albums, you’d think it wouldn’t be too much to ask for at least some ambition or a sign of progress.
Début record Bang Bang Rock & Roll fizzed with glee; the sound of a band barely believing they’ve been given the opportunity to make a record while follow-up It’s a Bit Complicated was - with a couple of notable exceptions - a deflating disappointment. Art Brut vs. Satan is somewhere in the middle; good enough to be worth a couple of listens but enough bad at times to frustrate and make you wonder what might have been.