Album Review: Art Brut – Brilliant! Tragic!




Art Brut‘s Eddie Argos never fails to impress with his goofy immaturity. In each of his projects, Argos spends the time gleefully shouting out whatever comes to his seemingly perpetually adolescent mind, whether it’s comic books, nudity, or modern art, always with a big, clever grin and always without coming off as insincere. He has inhabited that same role, that same persona so perfectly that it seems like he’s on auto-pilot. His tossed-off, funny, cockney-accented remarks are so easily the centerpiece of Art Brut’s material that it’s almost difficult to notice everything else. This isn’t to say that the other four members of the band don’t deserve a good deal of attention. Instead, it’s just further proof that Argos is a provocateur, an exciting, hilarious voice that demands and deserves center stage.

One of the lines that drove Argos into the spotlight was his enthusiastic, joyful exclamation on “Good Weekend” that he “saw her naked…twice!” Where other lyricists would have played it cool, Argos was sugared up and jumping up and down like a kid, every little moment a cause for a victory cry. That continues on Art Brut’s fourth studio album. “Clever Clever Jazz” opens the disc, finding Argos sounding a little sleepy at first, describing an upcoming gig. “I hope my friends will come tonight so they can see what I’m really like,” he moans before shouting out the song’s title, kicking into gear himself. Following that on “Lost Weekend”, Argos is again turned down, this time bemoaning some bad luck: “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you by saying something stupid like I love you,” he slurs. Something seems to have happened here if not even a good chorus can get Argos excited. Even though he can’t get pumped, guitarist Ian Catskilkin’s sly “Satisfaction” aping in the middle of a verse is the cheeky, fun-loving stuff that good Art Brut is made of.

“Bad Comedian” is more Argos self-criticism, this time capturing the heartbreak of the modern world:  “I spent some time trying to forget/I spent some time drunk at the Internet/I spent some time that I now regret/Who’s this guy that you just met?” It also features one of the sharper insults Argos has ever dropped, seething that his ex’s new beau probably “signs his name in Comic Sans.” Bassist Freddy Feedback, rhythm guitarist Jasper Future, and drummer Mike Breyer’s locked-in rhythms aren’t designed to be drawing much attention, but here they shine under Argos’ re-found fervor. “Sexy” is a New Wave-meets-Pixies slow-burner where Argos lists his faults in hope of a reconciliation. “I’m going to prove I love you and I’ll have you change your mind/That would be a triumph with a voice like mine,” Argos winks, acknowledging his intentionally un-singerly delivery.

The droning, aimless “Is Dog Eared” flails a little too much, its strange psychedelia and vamping instrumentation going on for over six minutes as Argos falls apart. Luckily, “Martin Kemp” arrives immediately afterward, exploding with old-school Art Brut energy and enthusiasm, Argos looking back wistfully, ironically to his school days. “Axl Rose” is a fitting tribute to the Guns N’ Roses vocalist, mindless lyrics about checking out his middle finger and beating the world to the punch that are sure to be coming at your head. It’s a little silly, a little dumb, and heavy on the riffage… which is to say, it’s a lot like Axl Rose.

“I Am the Psychic” is Argos’ explanation of his intense ability to look into the seemingly universal pains and embarrassments that he describes so well. The driving, humming guitars of Catskilkin and Future push the song incredibly, leaving room at the top for the vocalist to do what he does best. The half-acoustic “Ice Hockey” is a dark tune by this band’s standards, Argos discussing his own death and its aftermath. The twee “Sealand” closes things out serenely, Argos on a happy, hand-holding trip with his girl, not discussing any insecurities, past fights, or an upcoming breakup.

While the album is again principally focused on Eddie Argos, it’s not exactly the same Argos. He has his quieter moments, his darker moments, even a rare, purely happy one. It’s not a huge difference, not one that makes this seem like it’s somebody else’s album, but it’s a difference nonetheless. Argos will probably still be front and center at live shows, shouting about that time when he saw her naked (twice!), but maybe this is the start of his folding in some new developments.