Tuesday, August 30, 2005

art brut - bang bang rock and roll

The first 30 seconds of Art Brut's wonderful debut album are slightly hysterical; a wall of guitars and some joyous shoutin': "Formed a band! We formed a band! Look at us! We formed a band!", they cry. That done, the band showcase the two things they do very well – the heavy guitars suddenly shift into a keen, spidery riff, showcasing an innate melody and wilful subversiveness, and moments later, they're telling us that they're "going to be the band that writes the song / that makes Israel and Palestine get along".

There are countless examples of singer Eddie's bright, showy wit, and mini-tunes galore on an album which clocks in at a pleasing forty minutes or so. My Little Brother, the second track, exemplifies Art Brut's celebration of the ordinary. Having just discovered rock and roll ("he's only twenty two and he's out of control"), the narrator's brother, currently "living with all that unforgiving", has to "make his own mistakes". Seeing as the worst he seems to manage is a bit of frugging on the dancefloor, it doesn't sound too problematic. Although a note of caution is voiced:

He no longer listens to a-sides
He made me a tape of bootlegs and b-sides
And every song, every single song on that tape said exactly the same thing:
"Why don't our parents worry about us?"
"WHY don't our parents worry about us???"

Emily Kane is better still; a warm tribute to first love, it gets romantic nostalgia dead on, even down to remembering – to the second – the last time the narrator saw his first girlfriend. "Every girl I've seen since, looks like just like you - when I squint". I hope Emily Kane is real, and that Art Brut get what they want. "I hope this song will find you fame", Eddie sings, "I want schoolkids on buses singing your name".

Throughout, the Brut kick up an adrenelising Television Personalities / Fall stew. Eddie's lyrics frequently slip off key, or run every so slightly counter to the melody, but the limitations of his voice and charming hesitancy is a big plus. At times he sounds a bit like Mike Skinner, which has been picked up on before, but his voice is more expressive, and his lyrics just as entertaining. Rusted Guns Of Milan, in particular is hilarious, a throbbing account of sexual failure which culminates in "I know I can, I know I can, I’m always fine with my own hand"...

Like a lot of newish British bands, Art Brut draw fairly heavily on garage rock and late 70s punk, but they’re wise enough to raise an eyebrow at the boundless r' and r' cliches every now and again. Far better a band who declaim not only that "Modern art makes me want to rock out" but also "I can’t stand the sound of the Velvet Underground. I can't stand the sound the second time around". How serious Eddie is is uncertain, obviously, but I've been waiting all my life for a band to sniff "No more songs about sex and drugs and rock and roll. It's boooooooring!". Thinking back, several tracks merge effortlessly in my mind but, as with the Fall, Art Brut's limited palate is not a problem when they're this interesting.

The album's two best songs, Good Weekend and Bad Weekend demonstrate Art Brut's conflicting sensibility. Essentially a band who find real life a bit more interesting than rock music, the former is an ecstatic ode to a new girlfriend, culminating in the album's finest moment, where Eddie, in conversational mode, and having played it pretty cool so far, finally announces "I've seen her naked, TWICE! I'VE SEEN HER NAKED TWICE!!!!".

But Rock and Roll, for all it's limitations (Razorlight, basically) is a more reliable mistress than any girlfriend, and Art Brut can never resist turning back to it, although Bad Weekend finds them somewhat out of touch. "Haven't read the NME in so long! Dunno what genre we belong", they cry. Indeed, "Popular culture no longer applies to me" is a gloriously pretentious and fun motto to adopt. But the way Eddie sings "Top Of The Pops", his voice all crazed excitement, belies any notion that they don't care.

The most fun pop record I’ve heard all year.


Ben said...

I enjoyed them at Glastonbury (first time I'd heard anything by them), but they're one of those bands who I could see might not come across so well on record. Might have to check it out though.

Not overly impressed by Eddie Argos's instigation of this feud with Bloc Party - it smacks of an attempt to piggy-back into the NME reader's consciousness by being "controversial"...

Mônica T. said...

I Couldn't agree more with you, the band is really good, and amazingly simple...