Art Brut: Brilliant! Tragic!

[24 May 2011]

By Joe Lambert

It’s time we stop comparing Art Brut to Art Brut, and time we acknowledge the brief love affair that was Bang Bang Rock and Roll, It’s a Bit Complicated‘s sameness, Art Brut Vs. Satan‘s same sameness and accept the band for what they are: ironic sort-of-punkers-but-mostly-jokesters who like to pun Axl Rose and play Pixies-infused squelch-rock—which is exactly what they do on their new album, Brilliant! Tragic!

Of course, saying Art Brut have recorded the same album four times over in a span of eight years would be to sell the band short by three albums. It’s important to remember how good Art Brut is at making rock ‘n’ roll that’s both heartfelt and hilarious: “Emily Kane”, “Passenger”, “Summer Job”, “People in Love”, “St. Pauli” and “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes” are only a pinch of examples.

Eddie Argos is quoted saying, “If [Brilliant! Tragic!] was a TV show, you’d define it as a dramedy.” He’s not far off, but the band’s new album’s title doesn’t just point to itself, it points to Art Brut as a whole. They’re a band that is very much brilliant (see: “Axel Rose” or “Formed a Band”), very much tragic (see: “I am the Psychic” or “The Replacements”), and oftentimes brilliant and tragic at the same time (see back-to-back album closers: “Ice Hockey” and “Sealand”).

Brilliant! Tragic!‘s standout tracks are more Black Francis and less Art Brut this time around, but that’s to be expected when a German/British rock band records an album in Salem, Oregon. “Bad Comedian”, heavy on the delay, combines a snare-heavy Pixies drum line with a delay-heavy Pixies guitar line. Then the band turns around on the next tracks, “Sexy” and “Is Dog Eared”, and do the best Clash impression since their last Clash impression. There’s a reason Black Francis works with Art Brut. They’re razor sharp, yet piss drunk, running from the delay pedal to the distortion pedal, Argos above the caterwaul screaming, “This world is fucked / And you’re an idiot!”—punning and respecting their forebears in the same gesture.

And with that ironic respect Art Brut present “Ice Hockey”, a song that pretends to function as a turning point for the band. Argos opens the song with “Don’t cry / I finally escaped / Just pretend that / I’m going into space.” A Slash-parodying/envying guitar line breathes a little fire onto the near bare-bones track. For just over a minute, Art Brut escape themselves (or at least try). Eddie Argos is singing. Is this going to be their moment of transcendence? Bold moves for an already bold band?

Well, no. But yes, too. Argos slips back into what he does best and talks through the rest of the song, and the band chugs out a remarkably boring track that ends by fading into a whitewash of treble. But on the bridge, Argos sings again: “Goodbye / Don’t cry.” The song crescendos around him, drums and guitars swell into a gigantic wall of Black Francis sound-noise, the refrain loops, Argos talks over himself and a wave of treble swallows the band whole.

It’s brilliant, it really is. Of course, Art Brut would never end an album so conventionally, so they close with “Sealand” and tell us once more they’ve escaped—this time by sea instead of space. It’s ironic, redundant, ridiculous, and sort of unnecessary. It’s Brilliant! Tragic!, and you should give it a spin.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/139872-art-brut-brilliant-tragic/