Monday, June 25, 2007

It's a Bit Complicated - Review

When I grew up as a kid, I reveled in the geekiest sort of music possible - Weird Al Yankovic, mainly. Despite the fact Amish Paradise only works as a parody while Gangsta's Paradise is popular, I loved the genius nature of the songs. Sure, he may steal melodies, but it's usually to make fun of the rest of society. It's silly, but it's still commentary of SOME substance.

That's the same thing I thought when listening to "Formed a Band," by Art Brut. Then I listened to "Bang Bang Rock and Roll." Now it wasn't just commentary, it wasn't just parody, it was all scathing satire. For me, it was the perfect dismantling of the indie subculture. "Modern Art" got far too excited about Matisse for the listener to keep a straight face, "Bang Bang Rock and Roll" finally echoed my groans over the Velvet Underground's indie deification, and Bad Weekend gave the most accurate a tragic summation of the culture with one line: "Popular Culture No Longer Applies to Me." The album was like a punk rebirth in itself. At the same time, the series of stories as told through Eddie Argos' eyes seemed closer to a modern Quadrophenia: Jimmy had the Mods, Eddie had the indie kids.

After awhile, this grand illusion wore off. The album was still great, but it is not the indictment of the music scene as I (or, Pitchfork) thought. Yet, critics still hailed Argos as a new lyrical genius. One reviewer posited him as a modern day Elvis Costello (as Mr. Costello dabbles more in Jazz, these days?).

Well, he's not Elvis Costello, he's not Mark E. Smith, he's not even Ian Brown. He's just Eddie Argos. If he had expanded on the new album, perhaps we could start plotting out the direction of his greatness amongst British rock legends.

Unfortunately, that have to wait.

It's a Bit Complicated starts off with a punch of guitar that was somewhat subdued in BBR&R, probably thanks to the Jasper, the replacement for Chris Chinchilla, who left the band after their first album. With the treble turned up to 11 on "Pump Up the Volume," Argos starts the theme of awkward romantic experiences by singing about a lover torn between his girlfriend and the pop song on the radio.

"Pump up the Volume" and "Direct Hit" may be radio-friendly for it's catchy chorus and head-bopping guitar licks, but Argos isn't talking to the kids about anything all that groundbreaking: "Move your feet like your shoes don't fit/get on the dance floor/ it's a direct hit!" It may get you dancing, but the laughter doesn't last like it used to.

The lyrical genius of Argos is ready for digestion on a few tracks such as "Post Soothing Out", "Sound of Summer" and "Nag Nag Nag Nag." The first two tracks tread the same kind of lovesick lamentations Argos has reflected on so brilliantly ever since he wrote "These Animal Menswe@r" at 15. The blunt semi-spoken delivery mixed with the pointed reactions to traditional pop music mix perfectly here. Yet, Nag Nag Nag Nag has the most promise for the future. It's the only track where Argos takes the aim at his adolescence: "Is it the sound of a man wrestling with emotion/ or the sound of him losing/and causing commotion?"

The rest of the album is a mixed bag - St. Pauli bounces along on an uninspired delivery by Argos and a back-to-basics bass line that sounds tired and repetitive. Late Sunday Evening takes a nice instrumental turn by adding a section of horns to cap the song off, but the lyrics don't resonate with the same unique subject matter as other efforts. The same goes for Blame it On the Trains, which is probably the lowest point on this album.

The appeal of Art Brut isn't that they're "Just the kids" but being brutally honest and personal. Anyone can write a love song, but only Argos can write a song about going flaccid with sincere emotion. That's what made them dynamic; the breakneck punk rock backing was always just a bonus. Here, it sounds like they've spent more time on the latter, which has allowed the subject matter to become average stuff.

One can only hope Argos will speak volumes louder than he does here, or Art Brut may become the novelty I feared they'd become. Still enjoyable, but silly.

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