by Rinjo Njori.
On a decidedly more crowded playing field that saw releases from Bloc Party, Maximo Park, Kasabian, and even Jarvis Cocker during the first half of 2007 - Art Brut find themselves knee deep in the once per decade British music explosion. Art Brut caused all sorts of commotion a few months back when tracks from It's a Bit Complicated were distributed to various sites to post in advance of the release. That was quickly followed up with a request to remove said tracks. Some people jumped the gun releasing the tracks and others similarly jumped the gun asking for retractions. In other words, it got a bit complicated. Art Brut's follow up to 2005's Bang Bang Rock & Roll finds the band as polarized as ever and not quite as together as their contemporaries.
One common theme throughout the album are references to other songs or influences. "Pump Up the Volume", which opens the album, immediately recalls one hit/one track recording artist M|A|R|R|S (or the Christian Slater movie), but the music is more akin to the influence of Pulp's Different Class. Still the lyrical and song references are littered throughout the album. Sometimes the reference is in the song's title and sometimes in the lyrics. There is a nod to Billy Childish's Garage Rock legends Thee Headcoats on "St. Pauli." The song lifts the entire chorus from Messerschmitt Pilots' Severed Hand track "Punk Rock is Nicht Tot" ("Punk Rock is Not Dead!") and repurposes it for this song. Less obvious is the quick aside in "Post Soothing Out" to Ike and Tina Turner's Phil Spector produced "River Deep - Mountain High." These references are great for the music nerd and a nod to some influential artists. Musically they are way off the mark from Art Brut's "sound".
Thankfully Argos's lyrics also provide plenty shots of humor. "Nag Nag Nag Nag", "Pump Up the Volume" and "People In Love" take easy shots at young love and brief love. Whether it's interrupting a make out session to turn up a good tune, the dreadful mix tape your girlfriend makes for you, or the weight couples seem to gain when there love grows as well. Luckily they manage to truly gel on one undeniably great song. "Direct Hit" incorporates some great riffs, backing vocals, and for once Argos vocals blend perfectly with the music the band is playing. The song doesn't get old and would be a hit by anyone's standards.
There appears to be two distinctive parts to this band. There is Eddie Argos the vocalist/spoken word extraordinaire whose lyrical and vocal styles recall Johnny Lydon and Jarvis Cocker. As motioned he is quick witted and puts together lyrics that actually tell a story. Then there is Ian, Freddy, Mikey, and Jasper who craft some great modern British Alternative rock. They take chances and incorporate some interesting elements. The real problem with Art Brut as a group is that Eddie's vocals don't really "play" well with the rest of the bands music. "Late Sunday Evening" gels perfectly, but "Jealous Guy" sees Eddie constantly trying to catch up with the music.
Art Brut undoubtedly will benefit from the latest explosion of British music on the international alternative music scene. I am sure there "confusing" leak benefited them as well. But, It's a Bit Complicated lacks what a lot of their other contemporaries have displayed this year. Bloc Party stepped up with a more focused and cohesive sounds, even if their singer was hell bent on pushing everyone's buttons. Jarvis Cocker proved that the "C" word was relevant and hasn't been a hermit since Pulp's demise. Art Brut doesn't portray that same kind of drive or confidence. They seems to be headed in two different directions. One direction led by their witty and engaging lyricist. The other by a great rock band. On It's a Bit Complicated, it's clear that those two parts are rarely on the same page.