! = recommended
* = all-ages
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I wish I understood the music industry. Ok, maybe I don't really want to understand as it might horrify me to the point where I'll melt away like the poor fellow who chose the wrong Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I know that most music magazine and websites really, really, really want to pick the Next Big Things (NBTs). However, think of all of the recent NBTs according to the likes of NME, MTV and their devil-spawn: Arctic Monkeys, Subways, Elefant, Editors, Killers, Bravery, Futureheads and so on. Labels were tripping over themselves to sign them. For what? I'm not sure. Yes, they might be very marketable as trendy danceable bands that the kids will love. However, most of that list leaves me empty. And angry. Why? Well, with all these bands getting all these deals and all this money flying around then WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG TO GET ART BRUT IN THE STATES? Honestly folks, Art Brut puts all of these NBTs to shame on so many levels it makes my head spin. Now that you can, at your leisure, walk to your local record shop and buy Bang Bang Rock & Roll, you should feel that the universe might be slowly trying to right the wrongs that the music media has perpetrated.
I'm honestly not sure where to start with Art Brut. They rock. That's the long and short. They not only rock with their instruments, they rock with their mouths (well, brains might be a better way to put it). Imagine if Billy Bragg had decided to say bollocks to the whole politics thing and instead stuck to his punk-rock roots. Or, better yet, try to imagine what the product of an unfortunate splicing accident between the Monkees and the Sex Pistols. They might get you close to Art Brut. They open things up with "Modern Art" with the anthemic chorus of modern art makes me want to rock out!. This is brutal honestly, my friends. It's a fun little ditty about their enthusiasm towards art and that's about it – simple and effective. However, once you're gotten past "Modern Art", you need to sit down. "Emily Kane" is possibly the best love song written in the past five years. It's like the modern equivalent to Billy Bragg's "New England" in its stark beauty. Detailing Eddie Argos' lost high school love, the longing is apparent right down to he startling precise I've not seen her in ten years … nine months, three weeks, four days, six hours, thirteen minutes, five seconds. The song itself is a beacon to Emily as Eddie adds I hope this song finds you fame/I want school kids on buses singing your name. "Formed a Band" is an unabashedly rock and roll song, with Art Brut declaring we're going to be the band that writes the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along and we're going to write a song as universal as "Happy Birthday". Now that takes real rock and roll cajones! (Eddie even tackles the thick British accent he sings with, declaring and yes, this is my singing voice/it's not irony.)
It almost becomes impossible to tackle this album song-by-song, there is too much to say. They can slow things down on tracks like "Rusted Guns of Milan" that is as catchy as anything as the band repeat I know I can while Eddie apologize his lack of "performance" (let's say). Interestingly, this song is followed by "Good Weekend," a tribute to getting a new girlfriend and no one has captured that truly-male excitement of such an event with Eddie singing with unbridled enthusiasm I've seen her naked…twice! I've seen here naked twice! You feel ridiculous hearing such exhilaration over such things, but heck, its true. There is a pervasive feeling that Art Brut might be the British equivalent to the Modern Lovers, with loose, punk songs combined with horribly witty lyrical content. The title track exposes their contempt for typical rock and roll: no more songs about sex and drugs and rock and roll/it's booooring (and for some reason they really pick out the Velvet Underground as target to their derision.)
"Fight" has a bit of Blur mixed into their usually straight rock. Come on! Come on! Let's have a fight sounds like a more aggressive lost sibling from Parklife. "My Little Brother" details how his brother just discovered rock and roll and how it transformed him into a Nick Hornby-like proto-music snob. It is a warning to us all: anyone one of your close friends and relatives can become a music nerd. "Bad Weekend" (the counterpoint to "Good Weekend" I would guess) starts with an infectious riff and drifts into the admission that popular culture no longer applies to me. It is remarkable, once you've gotten this far into Bang Bang Rock & Roll is the ease that Art Brut creates these rock and roll gems. Of all the recent NBTs, only the Kaiser Chiefs and Bloc Party seem to have this hook-laden Midas Touch (ok, you might be able argue the Arctic Monkeys have some of this too, but I still have trouble getting past that name).
Art Brut is for anyone who likes his or her music (a) catchy, (b) rocking and (c) intelligent. That might be where I went wrong on all this. Maybe the popular listening audience really doesn't want that sort of music. Maybe they just want the lifeless tripe (mmmm tripe) that gets airplay these days. I mean, honestly, in the UK, a ringtone hit #1. Stateside, we get "My Humps" and Ashley Parker Angel. You know what, I'm beginning to realize something here. You don't deserve it. That's it. You don't deserve Art Brut. Shame on you. Shame on all of you.