Art Brut‘s 2009 album Art Brut Versus Satan was nothing short of incredible. The album began as a run-down of likeable tales from lead singer Eddie Argos’ private life including his love for comic books and public transport. The record then swerved off into a biting criticism of the music industry slamming over-produced and unoriginal music whilst also lamenting the band’s own lack of mainstream success. As a listening experience it was a pleasure, it sounded like the tale of a contented lead singer slowly realising his dismay at the music industry.
With this in mind, their latest offering Brilliant! Tragic! seems a little… bizarre. The choices of song topics leave the listening wondering what on earth goes on in Eddie Argos’ mind; the opening track ‘Clever Clever Jazz’ appears to be about forming a jazz band whilst ‘Axl Rose’ is a song that repeatedly insults the listener and the world in general but reserves praise for the out-of-favour Guns N Roses front man. Perhaps most confusing is the track ‘I Am The Psychic’ in which Argos boasts of his alleged telepathic ability crooning ‘I was born with special powers’ and ‘all your secrets, I can hear them’. Given the band’s history of portraying every day stories with a loveable comic spin (in such back-catalogue hits as ‘Good Weekend’ and ‘Pump Up the Volume’) these songs startle the listener and it is difficult to respond positively to their baffling topics given Argos’ usual uncanny relate-ability.
Argos again confuses the listener with his changeable vocal style; previously the indie icon’s spoken-word delivery had earned him a reputation as the most likeable alternative front man since Jarvis Cocker, but now Argos attempts to sing in a more melodic conventional way on certain tracks, namely ‘Lost Weekend’ and ‘Sexy Sometimes’. This shift in style jars with what has come to be expected of the band and although artistic development is a trait to encourage, this is another downfall of the record. This new style was a risky decision and, perhaps due to nerves, it sounds incredibly awkward and unpractised.
The album does have it’s redeeming moments though, ‘Bad Comedian’ is a track which sees a perplexed Argos lamenting a former lover’s new choice of bedfellow. When Argos sneers ‘he dresses like came free with the NME’ and ‘I bet he signs his name in Comic Sans’ the listener is truly treated to some of Argos’ most humorous lyrics yet, with comedy having become a trademark of the band on previous albums. Musically the album is as water-tight as you would expect with almost every song offering a ripping guitar solo.
All in all, the album is far from tragic, but also nowhere near brilliance. Art Brut have chosen not to play to their strengths with this record, attempting bizarre song topics and attempting to shift from their patented singing style. Both of these approaches are risks that did not pay off and the album seem incoherent as a result. Perhaps a better name for the album would have been ‘Experimental! Disappointing!’.
Songs to download: Bad Comedian, Sealand, Sexy Sometimes
Brilliant: The cuttingly humorous lyrics, see ‘Bad Comedian’.
Tragic: Eddie Argos’ attempts to change his singing style, see ‘Lost Weekend’.