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Music Review: Art Brut – It’s a Bit Complicated

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There’s something inherently fascinating about UK alt-punk-popsters Art Brut and their sanctimonious LV, Eddie Argos. He’s the unpotable quotable rock star du jour, to be sure. Fronting a self-effacing musical pony with but a single trick under its saddle, how can it be that his band’s sophomore long-player, It’s a Bit Complicated, still manages to charm?

Next verse same as the first, indeed. Thing is, the first verse was pretty cool.

Perhaps the late, great actor Jack Palance said it best in that cheeky Mennen’s Skin Bracer commercial from way back: “Confidence is very sexy… don’t you think?” Okay, one could have gone with the Oscar-inspired “(The Killers/Franz Ferdinand)… we crap bigger than them,” but even bringing Palance into this queasy metaphor seemed to make the point well enough. Like Palance before them, people seem to take Argos and Art Brut’s craft for granted. They’ll be revered when it’s over — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

Argos and company’s work isn’t terribly arty; it is without airs and almost strictly a matter of confident craft. But that’s what makes this second helping succeed. Complicated is lovingly prepared with the same recipe that made the first batch of tracks on Bang Bang Rock & Roll so appealing. Like Bang Bang before it, Complicated has great lyrics, mega-trashy pop hooks, meaty beats, and a snazzy attitude that’s homemade, not from a can. It takes no longer than the one-two punch of “Pump Up the Volume” and “Direct Hit” to realize you’re listening to something you don’t hear from your speakers every day. Familiar, to be sure, but totally fun — and great for summer listening.

Argos in particular doesn’t worry about the details. The Devil May Care, but you’d never know it, ‘cuz he says what he wants. Call it Voluntary Tourette's Syndrome. He strives to outclass a girlfriend’s exes in the bedroom. He asks a potential conquest to keep her heels on because she looks taller, he ponders a platonic friend's reaction to a mix tape and revels yet again in being in a band. He’s loving life, walkin' tall, living it up, and lettin' all the chips fall where they may. It's only rock and roll, but he likes it.

Sounds familiar? It’s been done before, you say? Sure it has. So why does it work?

Argos is disarmingly cocky, witty, arrogant and irreverent, that's why. And through it all, he is so believable and convincing that he makes Daryl Palumbo of Glassjaw and Head Automatica sound like a Cub Scout struggling to earn that Webelos badge. Argos doesn’t demand attention with over-enunciating or over-modulating: he’s just a disarmingly clever guy. By the time you make your way through the watershed singles “I Will Survive” and “Sound of Summer” (which feature some great guitar work and solid musicianship), you realize that this band might just be nothing without Mr. Personality Plus. 

Just like The Darkness couldn’t go on without Justin Hawkins, Art Brut begins and ends with Argos. All of which begs the question: What’s the shelf life on this Art Brut anyway? In all likelihood, not much longer than Fruit Brute cereal. The band will surely buckle under the weight of popularity, if not under the dreaded UK rock mag principle of naming the band’s successor in time for the holiday shopping season. I've got 20 one-handed push-ups that says so.

Truth is, confidence is very sexy. And so is It's a Bit Complicated. Longevity? Now that's really complicated. And another thing altogether.

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About Peter Chakerian