Customer Review

4 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unfunny and slightly irritating, 28 April 2009
This review is from: Art Brut Vrs Satan (Audio CD)
With all of its key representatives releasing their third LPs, the NME-sanctioned "art wave" genre has had something of a resurrection in the last couple of months. Bloc Party surprised everyone with their challenging departure from the mainstream, Intimacy. Franz Ferdinand resurfaced after a fairly long hiatus and surprised no-one with their limp third album, Tonight. And now Art Brut are back with their third record, Art Brut vs Satan.

Unlike Bloc Party, Art Brut are in the slightly less enviable position of being relative outsiders, looking to court the mainstream as a means of regular job avoidance. By sticking to their guns, Art Brut - like Franz Ferdinand - will be hoping that art wave's star is not in a state of waning. It must be said that any movement is only as good as its component parts and as far as Art Brut vs Satan goes, the news for art wave (according to this critic) isn't good.

The main problem with art wave is that its irony has a tendency of becoming easily inverted, with bands ultimately sounding like a Chris Morris piss-take of themselves. Worse still, because the irony trick is played here with such incessant predictability, the whole album merges into one slightly unfunny joke. The problem being, you're guaranteed to laugh more at the reductionist wit of anti-irony satirists like Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker than the straight-laced irony of Art Brut. Post-modernism and nihilism are the anti-Christs of many forms of humour. For art wave, irony has met its maker in satirism: whereas art wave's self-referential irony once felt like a refreshing tonic to the derivative movements of Brit-pop and new wave punk, the movement now feels more like an unintended parody of itself.

Aside from its sub-contextual problems, Art Brut vs Satan is not helped by another, more obvious, factor. As Franz Ferdinand have found with their latest album, and to a certain extent with the follow-up to their landmark debut, once the well has dried up you either evolve or suffer the consequences. Bloc Party spotted the musical death knells of predictability and stagnation early and swerved to avoid them. With their third release, Art Brut are still riding the buzz of their debut. Aside from the final track's noble, seven-minute attempt at self-indulgence, the formula remains the same: three-minute, punky student anthems laden with immediate hooks, catchy riffs and conversational storytelling - all of which is doused in a quintessentially British irony.

Album opener Alcoholics Unanimous is as obvious as its title's (huh, like so ironic) wordplay. With his overly-enunciated southern accent, lead singer Eddie Argos informs us: "I've been up all night / I've been making mistakes / I'm hiding it well / but I don't feel great". Argos then goes on to describe how he feels compelled to send his friends a "group text" as a means of apology for his drunken misdemeanours. Hopefully, the group text will extend to all those with the misfortune to hear this track - and all of its sub-Hollyoaks clichés. Thankfully, crunching Graham Coxon-light fretwork - a regular feature of the album - helps to fill in the song's lyrical gaping holes.

As the album progresses, the irritating student humour carries on unabated. With DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake, Argos describes how he "eats cereal for every meal" (weirdo!), but has never had to share a teabag with another four people (that's just sick! Why would you do that!?). However, he does admit to a fondness for the title's subject matter "even at the age of 28!" The crazy fool. I bet he, like, still lives with his parents and doesn't have any means of regular income! That's OK, because I'd rather have him explain the connection between his completely uninteresting juvenility and a (truly unfortunate) girl working in a local comic shop that Argos fancies. No, I really would.

Throughout the album's duration, the whole gamut of Adrian Mole-inspired day-to-day happenings are covered in a similarly narrative, faux-ironic fashion. A number of inspiring topics are covered such as: Argos' predilection for public transport (The Passenger); shyness (Am I Normal?); amateur bands (Slap Dash For No Cash); the discovery of an old band (The Replacements); and the crapness of summer jobs (Summer Job). Although the subject matter is not exactly life-changing, the band's musical output is profuse with adrenaline-inducing guitar work, raucous drumming and addictive baselines - think along the lines of a Razorlight-Maccabees cross germination. There can be no doubt this album's tight production is its life raft: Frank Black's input has clearly been of great benefit.

Demon's Out, not before time, comes to the album's rescue and sees the band facing up to their own fate. As an individual track, it is easily the album's most interesting juncture. With a sense of exasperation, Argos expresses his fears regarding his band's future: "the record-buying public we hate them / this is our group vs Satan / a brush with Satan can be fatal / we're doing this for you / so you should be grateful!" The extent of the band's frustration becomes clear when Argos asks: "how am I supposed to sleep at night / when no-one likes the records we write?" Tracks like this one that harbour a greater degree of confession and intrigue and a more restrained use of irony may provide the singer with a resolution to his troubles.

Perhaps this illuminating illustration of the band's own sense of fallibility will usher in a new and improved Art Brut. Certainly, the lengthy final track suggests the band, at least musically, are capable of creating interesting landscapes. Let's hope this band's future is not hamstrung by its now tiresome ironic predisposition.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 May 2009 10:13:23 BDT
nigeyb says:
I don't agree with your opinion however the review is one of the most interesting and readable album reviews I read for some time. Thanks.

Posted on 14 May 2009 14:09:45 BDT
J. Williams says:, what's the point in leaving such a lengthy negative review? Do you think you're going to tutor them out of their ironic posturing with such an in-depth slagging? Go flex your acerbic muscle some place else; this is the reviewing equivalent of picking on the bespectacled ginger haired kid at school... I'm not a fan of Art Brut particularly BTW, nor am I band member.

Posted on 17 May 2009 22:49:47 BDT
What a strange review. I don't think the fact Bloc Party made a dance influenced record (or one that sounded like they had justt heard the Klaxons for the first time) was daring or surprising at all, it's what a lot of bands seem to be doing at the moment. Also are you having a go at the NME's art movement? Because that really isn't Art Brut's fault it was just another scene that didn't make any sense that they tried to create (New rock revolution, Nu rave, Scene with no name etc) I mean really how much do any of the three bands you mentioned sound like each other?

The thing I really don't agree with is how you seem to think they're being ironic. I really think Eddie Argos sings what he really feels I'm aware this doesn't automatically make this a great record but for me that's part of the charm of Art Brut. The lyrics about a 28 year old guy just discovering a band he can't believe he's never heard before (The Replacements) and a song about coming out as a comic fan (DC Comics) are really enjoyable. Demon's Out is a really passionate and angry song from someone who doesn't just care about the the fate of his band (and why shoudn't he?) It's someone who cares about the state of the charts and just wanting more from the music that sometimes makes it big. Just last year The kooks had a hit with a song that's chrous went

"Shine Shine Shine On...Yeah!" These are the bands that wind him up and his frustration shows, it's defintaley something I can get behind.

I think on this album they have grown into a seriously great band after they played it safer with the second album. The music is tighter and has regained the energy of the fantastic debut. I'm not sure that's just down to the production I think the band really stepped up. Also their use of harmonies (see Summer Job or Demons Out) really adds to the excitment of their sound. This album will in no way make them huge stars but I think they've found their place in the current music scene. They are outsiders who've managed to make really great third album (not many indie bands have managed that recently) The mix of painful truths just really hit home for me and on a song like Am I Normal? They've made a song that really moves me. As you say the final track is interesting but it's not the only track that is, I think it might just show people they are willing to take huge risks and I can't wait to hear what they do next.

It was a well thought out review but you take so much time to say what you hate about them..did they wrong you in some way?

Oh and camparing them to Razorlight in any way...That's cold!

In reply to an earlier post on 18 May 2009 18:34:27 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 May 2009 18:37:34 BDT
Musically, it's OK, even if there are bands making better and fresher sounds out there.

Lyrically, I'd simplify it like this: when Argos attempts to be funny (eg with the opening track) I just find his studenty humour really irritating. There's this intended sense of likeable precociousness, but the album's juvenile lyrics that describe equally juvenile behaviour shouldn't be allowed to make it to HMV's shelves.

Irony is multi-faceted, but in this case I was emphasising the album's attempts to be witty and/or intelligent. I just dont find anecdotes about drunken behaviour in the least bit witty. Yet, I had the very clear impression that the bands believes they are hilarious and the way they translate them rather clever. Embarrassing, pissed-up escapades: is that now the extent of our musical creativity?

There are bands that can get away with it. Arctic Monkeys are superb at conveying the nuances of British life and British people - both young and old. Witty, intelligent, genuinely comic, lyrically skillful, musically gifted. They are everything Art Brut tries to be.

If you want shyness and painful truths, bands like The Smiths and Pulp are the obvious barometers and Art Brut just fall way short. If you're moved by Art Brut, Morrissey and co. will probably have you in pieces! Unfortunately, there is nothing to convince me that Argos is anything but a slightly annoying, overgrown child with the same totally minor self-esteem issues that millions of others have to deal with. Shyness and fronting a band: as people say about Morrissey, it is quite a hard concept to swallow. Maybe there are other reasons this guy can't pull..

Worse still, the intimation that the music-buying public is somehow wrong to ignore Art Brut is pretty repugnant. I like the song because it was more expressive, but the expression itself is really pretty distasteful.

And for the record, The Kooks new album hasn't done much because it isn't that great. I don't think many would have a go at their earlier material, because that was pretty decent, inoffensive pop music.

Posted on 20 Jun 2009 10:33:41 BDT
I only listen to music I have heard before. This review does not make sense. Why don't you explain what it it is that you don't like about it?


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