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Art Brut: Wow! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!

Art Brut: Wow! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!

Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! is loads of fun.

Art Brut: Wow! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!

3.25 / 5

“Talkie-core” bands, whose frontmen are wont to deliver their music like barely-sung slam poetry with a banking band, are some of the world’s most polarizing acts. Sure, we all love Leonard Cohen’s straightforward delivery, but the sound of singers like Craig Finn of the Hold Steady or Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou can feel like nails on a chalkboard. For as long as they’ve existed, London’s Art Brut have pushed the aesthetic farther than most. Eddie Argos favors the same meter yet his delivery is enhanced by his thick South London accent, which makes the band feel more like an extended joke on The Inbetweeners than a legitimate group. That the opening song on their debut album Bang Bang Rock & Roll, “Formed A Band,” features Argos flatly stating, “And yes, this is my singing voice/ It’s not irony, it’s not rock & roll,” means that even they know it ca be a bit much. Though seven years have passed since their last album, Brillant! Tragic!, the band remains the same on Wow! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!.

Argos still sings excitedly about what a sad sack he is, a dissonance that truly never gets old. Lyrically, he fails to expand on his topical repertoire, instead falling on his old tricks of charming self-deprecation while never making you feel bad for him. We get some German, a song about “Top of the Pops” and even one that name-checks Veronica Falls. His willful refusal to innovate is part of his charm, that of an adept Everyman singer who can sound accessible while still singing songs about being a cult band (“Kultfigur”).

The biggest update is that Wham! Bang! Pow! relies heavily on infectiously bright brushes, with sunny horns announcing the album’s opener “Hooray!” or a slick backing vocal track on “Schwarzfahrer.” If the album were longer, such charms might wear thin, but for 35 minutes, the singer’s voice doesn’t get old. Guitarist Toby MacFarlaine and Wedding Present drummer Charlie Layton have joined, the latter perhaps underutilized but helping contribute to the new life the band have found.

That new life includes a lot of breakup songs, but Argos turns this on its ear by failing to act like his life is over because of it. “I’m not bitter and I don’t want her back/ There’ll be no Rumors or Blood on the Tracks,” he sings on opener “Hooray!” On the irresistible “I Hope You’re Very Happy Together,” he takes the high road with his ex before undercutting it with all-too relatable honesty: “I hope you’re very happy together/ If you’re not, that’s even better.” On “Veronica Falls,” he turns his lens to unrequited love and that relationship you’re too scared to begin: It’s a song about not cheatin’ on your girlfriend when you wish that you had.”

The gentle commentary on the music industry is continually the best part of the band’s records, and that’s no different here. On the cutely-named “She Kissed Me (And it Felt Like a Hit),” Argos compares making out with someone to being on “Top of the Pops” (a reference joyfully returning to the band’s catalog): “She, she kissed me and it felt like a hit/ I could taste the potential in it/ She, she kissed me and it felt like a hit/ Number one all summer long.” Elsewhere, on “Kultfigur,” he dreams about winning the Mercury Prize and that even his dream parents were surprised by the win, after summing the band up dismissively: “We’ve got a lead singer/ Doesn’t really sing/ Lives off his paintings/ Got a flat in Berlin.” Elsewhere, he goofs off, as on the witty call-and-response “Hospital!”: “When I get out of the hospital, I’m never going back at all/ “When he gets out of the hospital, he’s gonna be unbearable.” The album closes on a note of solidarity that straddles the divide between the internally-driven, with the bubbly “Your Enemies Are My Enemies Too,” with Argos swearing allegiance to you: “I’m gonna grow old like Robyn Hitchcock/ My hair will be white and my shirts will be polka dot/ My lyrical well, it’ll never run dry/ And every summer I write will be on your side.”

Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! is loads of fun, but you have to wonder why Argos doesn’t get more ambitious. Yet it would be difficult to imagine Art Brut as any other kind of band, where even the most sincere expressions of angst feel like an incredibly silly piss-take, a welcome sound in an increasingly dour world populated by achingly sad singers not nearly as sharp as Argos.

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