Art Brut vs. Satan
“Yes, this is my singing voice/ It’s not irony/ It’s not rock & roll/ We’re just talking… to the kids” once spoke (not sung) Art Brut frontman Eddie Argos on “Formed a Band,” the greatest rock group anthem in history, encapsulating everything the band is about: rollicking post-punk guitars and shouted word lyrics that are as self-reflexive as they are hilarious.
Three albums later and they’ve managed to keep up the act by never quite repeating themselves. Bang Bang Rock & Roll was a funny postmodern exploration of the very act of being a band — delusions of grandeur, songs about ex-girlfriends, magazine reviews, college-aged little brothers obsessed with the obscurities of a band’s output – that never smacked of a band complaining about the woes of fame. It’s a Bit Complicated wisely eschewed the previous effort’s self-aware shtick in favor of more personal stories about relationships and mix tapes delivered with the same wit and shout-speak, but somehow still felt like the band was overcorrecting for Bang Bang Rock & Roll’s excesses. Now Art Brut has managed to combine the two extremes.
A Day in the Life of Eddie Argos would have been an apt alternate title for newest effort Art Brut vs. Satan, which, despite the grandiose title, focuses on the little things in life. Instead of songs exclusively about the inherent futility of forming a rock band, we have songs about the enjoyment of public transportation, getting nervous around girls and discovering The Replacements later than one really should (but really, any time’s a good time to discover The Replacements).
Argos hasn’t gone soft on us, though. He’s grown less overt about conveying his criticism by employing it in his songs about music fandom. He opens the aforementioned “The Replacements” with “So many bands are just putting ya on/ Why can’t they be the same as their songs?” and ends by debating the indie kid’s dilemma: do you buy the used record (cheaper, more authentic) or the re-release (remastered, more tracks)? In his ode to lo-fi recordings, “Slap Dash For No Cash,” he asks, “Why does everyone want to sound like U2?” and shouts the praises of music where you can hear the singer’s voice crack and his parents yelling in the background to keep the noise down. The intended single “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake” not only showcases Argos’ love for these eponymous delights but also disregards the notion that the band is stagnant – a thesis statement whose proof is the album’s other ten tracks.
It’s not all as subtle, though. “Demons Out!” has Art Brut returning to Bang Bang Rock & Roll mode for a nearly four-minute purge. With its chorus (“The record-buying public/ We hate them/ This is Art Brut/ Versus Satan“) and lyrics like “We’re doing this for you/ so you better be grateful,” the song’s message is obvious. As if to make up for this indulgence, Argos lets loose the reigns and bends to the will of the song (for once) in the teen movie-friendly “Summer Job,” with its sung chorus (albeit not by Argos) and hook-laden lead guitar. Finally, an Art Brut song you can sing along to.
Under the production skills of Frank Black (yeah, that one), Art Brut vs. Satan takes on the scratchy feel of a Pixies record. Argos’ vocals remain the star of the show (save for the transcendent “Summer Job”), but the instrumentation has a presence that was sorely missing on It’s a Bit Complicated but made us – those who could stand it at least – keep Bang Bang Rock & Roll on repeat.
Art Brut vs. Satan ultimately begs an important question: How does Art Brut keep making good albums? You’d think the novelty would wear off by now, but Art Brut must have more going for them than simple novelty. Art Brut is the work of self-consciousness. Eddie Argos seems to know people are going to think his band sucks (one gets the impression that he’s said that about countless bands himself) and he makes up for it by writing songs about why his band sucks.
Let’s keep the quality of Art Brut vs. Satan to ourselves and no one tell him the truth.
by Danny Djeljosevic