Chances are that most people have made their mind up about Art Brut — and they probably did so the instant their debut single, ‘Formed A Band’, landed. Impressively, on their excellent first album, Bang Bang Rock ‘n’ Roll, they demonstrated that they could sustain their divisive sound over a whole album. Despite slightly different approaches in production, they didn’t stray too far from their formula on their next two releases. Brilliant Tragic, in 2011, was the first time they took a more varied approach. It contained clear highlights, but overall it felt scrappy and the progression was unconvincing.
After a hiatus, the group return with an altered line-up for Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! Argos claims it’s closest in spirit to Bang Bang Rock & Roll and Art Brut Vs Satan (their two best albums). There are lyrical similarities and the brash indie pop/punk energy remains, but it shares the fuller production of It’s A Bit Complicated. On this strong comeback, the band cover all the bases and they give fans what they want.
The brass-led ‘Hooray’ announces their return in a celebrity fashion. Argos addresses a recent breakup with trademark wit: “I’m not bitter and I don’t want her back, there’ll be no Rumours of Blood On The Tracks”.
‘I Hope You’re Very Happy Together’ features the usual lyrical Art Brut tropes with references to a break-up, a record collection and being cautiously optimistic about the future — “hopefully this will be the last breakup song I ever need”. The keyboards in the bridge are an example of the smoother production. They lead into a perfectly-carved Art Brut chorus. The dizzying guitar solo touches the energy of their live sound. From pop punk rushes (the title track, ‘Too Clever’) to their more tender side (the beautiful, ‘Veronica Falls’) Argos’ lyrics are offset by the band’s tight playing (something Brilliant Tragic often lacked).
Autobiographical lyrics have always made Art Brut endearing, and that continues here. ‘Good Morning Berlin’ is a catchy ode to Argos’ life in Berlin. ‘Hospital’ tackles the traumatic experience of Argos being seriously ill. The call and response vocals recall career highlight, ‘Alcoholics Unanimous’. Argos evaluates his future life choices — “I’m going to stay away from drink and drugs”. It’s brilliantly counteracted with the backing vocals that tease, “when he gets out of the hospital he’s going to be unbearable”.
‘She Kissed Me (And It Felt Like A Hit)’ leaves behind the breakup theme of the first few songs as he revels in the thrill of meeting a new love interest. The Rocket From The Crypt styled brass is suitably euphoric — climaxing with Argos repeating, “number one all summer long”. It’s a rally cry reminiscent of the commercial aspirations of Bang Bang Rock ‘n’ Roll, even down to his contagious enthusiasm for TOTP.
The band started with aspirations to become huge (or to at least get on TOTP) and they have documented that progress (or lack of) throughout their career. Formed A Band set out the expectations and ‘Demons Out’ from Vs Satan expressed their frustrations (“how am I supposed to sleep at night when no one likes the music we write”). Kultfigur is the acceptance as Argos acknowledges their continued position as cult outsiders with some of his best tongue-in-cheek lyrics — “we’ve got a lead singer who doesn’t really sing, lives off his paintings and lives in Berlin”. His self-awareness is as charming as ever as he sings, “last night I dreamt we won the Mercury Music Prize, our parents were proud, but quite surprised”.
The album ends with the excellent one-two punch of ‘Awkward Breakfast’ and ‘Your Enemies Are My Enemies Too’. On the latter, Argos sings about the feeling of fierce loyalty to a loved one. It ends with a very sweet and typical Argos manifesto — “my lyrical well will never run dry and every song I write, will be on your side”.
A lot has changed in Argos’ personal life since Brilliant Tragic’s release. These songs point to him finally getting his happy ending. Despite the change in circumstances, he’s the same person that made the band stand out at a time when British guitar music had lost its personality. It’s a safe step for the band, but it’s one that justifies their return.
Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! is out on Alcopop Records on Friday