Saturday, November 22, 2014

Art Brut
Bang Bang Rock & Roll
Banana Recordings/Fierce Panda import
* * * *
Blender, 2005

In 2005, few things could be less “rock’n’roll” than playing rock’n’roll. Real estate speculation, starting a restaurant, modern art--all have stronger claims to the cutting edge. Yet rock groups infest the land,  fresh droves of them arriving each month bearing ever stupider names. “Formed A Band,” the opening track on the debut album by London’s Art Brut (not actually a stupid name, always a good sign), hilariously skewers the presumptuousness of taking the stage and demanding attention like it’s a birth right. Yet tangled up inside the self-mocking chorus--“look at us, we formed a band!”--there’s a primal yelp of idiot-glee. Almost despite itself, the song exalts the exuberance and cameraderie of ganging up with your mates to make noise.  

Dark droning punk with a twist of Wiry weirdness, “Formed” also recalls Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild”, in the sense that this is the group’s defining, all-too-perfect song, the immaculate mission statement Art Brut may have problems surpassing. Hitting the listener with your best shot straightaway is a strategic blunder in terms of album sequencing, but there’s plenty of further excitements within Bang Bang. “My Little Brother” is shouty ‘n’ jumpy New Wave with another funny lyric, about being embarrassed by a younger sibling who’s only “just discovered rock’n’roll” and throws spazzy shapes on the dancefloor.  On the title track, singer Eddie Argos demands “no more songs about sex and drugs and rock’n’roll/It’s boring,” while “Bad Weekend” mournfully confesses “popular/culture/no longer/applies to me.”  But Bang Bang isn’t wall-to-wall meta.  “Emily Kane” pines for a long-lost girlfriend (although Argos does imagine the song being such a hit that “kids on buses” will be “singing your name”) and “Rusted Guns of Milan” is an oblique account of erectile dysfunction, suffused with a hangdog seediness faintly reminiscent of Pulp.

On the downside, Argos’ half-spoken delivery means he sometimes seems to operate “outside” the music, in the mode of punk poets such as Jim Carroll and John Cooper Clarke, rather than in the thick of it, while the Art Brut sound occasionally verges on merely mundane liveliness.  At their slightest, Art Brut come over like indie-rock’s equivalent to The Darkness (in “Good Weekend” Argos even eggs on Chris Chinchilla’s solo with a “go guitar!,” just like Justin Hawkins on “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”).  But at their most thrilling, Art Brut fuse the spiky cool of Elastica with the witty self-consciousness of an LCD Soundsystem. They mean it, sort of, maaaaan. 

“Art Brut, we’ve only just started,” Argos declares on “Formed.” For once, this isn’t just an empty promise. 

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