Art Brut – Art Brut Vs. Satan

Art Brut – Art Brut Vs. Satan

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If there was a list of bands least likely to craft a “grower”—i.e., an album that seems underwhelming at first, but then becomes better and better with each listen—Art Brut would be at the top of the pops. That’s because of one simple fact: With sung-spoken lyrics that straddled the line between the sincere and the tongue-in-cheek (sometimes within the same song), and a style of punk throwing back to groups like The Modern Lovers, Art Brut’s debut album, 2005’s Bang, Bang, Rock and Roll, was one the most gregarious, gleeful, and flat-out enjoyable records to have emerged this decade.

So it was a might peculiar, then, that the group would turn more inward for their follow-up, 2007’s It’s a Bit Complicated. Tempos varied, production fidelity was increased, and Art Brut began focus on quarter-life crises (a lyric from “I Will Survive” serves as the album’s mantra: “I’m ignoring my grown-up problems/ cuz I’ve got no idea how to solve them”). The newfound maturity added different emotional dimensions to singer Eddie Argos’ lovably awkward, devilishly clever lyrical persona, and the band proved as taut and game as ever. But at the same time, Art Brut lost a lot of the brash spirit that made them so appealing in the first place. In sum, Complicated was an album that had good songs that became better ones in retrospect—having an exuberant live show helps with that—but that still didn’t change the fact that Complicated was partially a victim of the dreaded sophomore slump.

Which is fine, because while Art Brut Vs. Satan, the latest album from these punk-influence band of outsiders, doesn’t match the heights of album number one, it nonetheless represents an improvement, at least in the short term, over the last record. Gone, for the most part, are Art Brut’s stabs at musically maturity, replaced with a facsimile of their original brashness that replaces youthful braggadocio with hard-earned wisdom. Lyrically, Art Brut Vs. Satan, like Complicated, addresses issues of arrested development. Eddie Argos still fears growing up, but he also accepts the fact that he’s growing up, whether he’s singing about an increasing number of regretful nights out (rollicking first track “Alcoholics Unanimous) or the drag of having to find more employment (“Summer Job”).

Of course, not all of the songs on Satan are about reconciling the need to mature with the desire to continue enjoying adolescent concerns. Satan’s two big missteps are tracks about Argos’ worries and pleasures in a present-day context: “The Passenger” is an meandering ode to public transportation that and “Demons Out!” about the band’s struggle with the fickleness of the record industry, which seems a little too bitter to suite the underdog, rag-tag spirit of the band. After those mid-album slumps, Satan immediately picks up in quality with the cheeky chug of “Slap Dash for No Cash,” a tribute to lo-fi music, and a snarky rejoinder to bands emulating U2 (“cool your warm jets, Brian Eno” goes one playful taunt). Also addressed to great effect are tried-and-true record geek touchstones, whether it’s discovering a classic band for the first time (“The Replacements”), or trying to cover up singing to yourself in public (“Twist and Shout”).

Lest you think that Art Brut have conquered Satan, he shows up again in the form of a band hangover for seven-minute album closer “Mysterious Bruises.” At first, “Bruises” begins as a Blondie-esque disco-punk number, with Argos relating details of his night out, and the painful morning after (“I fought the floor and the floor won”). But the disco gives way to music that’s more open-ended and atmospheric, with an echo effect heavily placed on the vocals. What both “Bruises” and Satan as a whole demonstrate is that Art Brut can seemingly have its maturation cake and eat it too, as long as they keep making records people like—whether they’re “growers” or not.


Comments

  1. I remember when Art Brut put out a good album, this is not one of them.

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