Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Art Brut, It's A Bit Complicated

Download: Art Brut - "Direct Hit"
Download: Art Brut - "St. Pauli"
Download: Art Brut - "I Will Survive"
Download: Art Brut - "Jealous Guy"

Art Brut
It's A Bit Complicated (Downtown Records, 2007)
Grade: B

Along with The Narrator's All That To The Wall, Art Brut's It's A Bit Complicated is the record that applies to my life in a way that would give singer Eddie Argos seemingly omniscient powers. I just experienced "Late Sunday Evening" two nights ago (both literally and figuratively) and a certain lyric (from "I Will Survive") encapsulates both my life at the moment and how I feel about this record: "I've been ignoring my grown-up problems/because I have no idea how to solve them."

The thing is, most bands, and indeed, most people, mature. Sometimes they mature for the better and sometimes they turn into boring past versions of themselves. If anything, maturity is defined by routine; namely, the routine of the working lifestyle. Get up, get yourself to work, apply all of your mental capacities to tasks that require zero, if any, of your creative instincts, eat lunch for half-an-hour, then do the same kind of work for another four hours. Get yourself home, spend time with your sweetie, take care of your grown-up responsibilities (bills, laundry and such), do some writing, go to bed. Rinse and repeat.

The thing is, routine and repetition are death to a rock band. Rock is one of the few places where not only you can remain eternally adolescent, but people actually admire you for it. To become mature is to succumb, a little bit, to the drudgery of day-to-day life. But you can't lose the essential teenage heart of your band, otherwise the spontaneity that is inherent to the spirit of music will be lost as well.

So what happens when a gleefully adolescent band tries to abandon the endearing, but undeniably gimmicky, premise of its debut and show the world that they are not a one-album sham but, rather, actual artists?

Well, needless to say...that's a bit complicated.

There's strong material on this album, to be sure, but overall, the stab at maturity that Art Brut is attempting is both a hindrance to the band's enthusiastic spirit and an aid to their songcraft. You can tell that Art Brut have improved immensely as players, judging by their expanded dynamics in songs like "Sounds of Summer" and "Nag Nag Nag Nag" but also as arrangers in songs such as "Late Sunday Evening" (with its amiable horn section), "Pump Up The Volume" (with its sighing backup vocals) and the poppy sheen of "Blame It On The Trains".

But the more refined approach also means that singer Eddie Argos holds back lyrically as well. While there are some great one-liners here (you'll have to discover them yourself), I feel that Argos didn't want to be taken just slightly more seriously. He still cracks wise at himself, but also admits that past obsessions were mere adolescent concerns. Good for him for trying to expand his lyrical range, but did he have to do it at the expense of his awesomely jovial outlook on topics like modern art and popular culture? Which, incidentally, still no longer applies to me.

Ultimately, It's A Bit Complicated feels like a band trying admirably to mature and grow-up musically, but somewhat failing because they have absolutely no idea how to be a grown-up. It's a perfect sentiment to describe your mid-20s (and a summation of yours truly), but one that doesn't necessarily make for the most consistent of rock records.

(Jonathan Graef)

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