[22 April 2009]
Art Brut Vs. Satan could have just as easily been called Bang Bang Rock and Roll III. The band is still just as capable of hanging with the punks as they are with the indie kids, Eddie Argos is still barking drunken blog posts instead of singing them, and all songs—excepting seven-minute closer “Mysterious Bruises”—still come in nice, manageable blocks of verse-chorus. With most bands who fall into diminishing returns like these, this is the point where we begin to grow weary, cut our losses, keep the excellent debut in our collections, and go look for someone else to worship. This won’t happen with Art Brut, though, because even though any of their songs could migrate from one of their three LPs to another without any of us being the wiser, this band is still damn near impossible to dislike.
The fact that Art Brut refuse to develop or mature in any obvious way between recording sessions is sort of the whole point. As far as indie music goes these days, this band proves with Art Brut Vs. Satan that they’re still one of the most punk bands that we’ve got going for us. Not necessarily in sound—though cuts like opener “Alcoholics Unanimous” have more than a bit of the propulsive energy that defined the first rebellion—but in ethos. Punk rallied against the increasing pretensions of ‘70s rock; Art Brut rally against the rampant preciousness and self-seriousness of modern indie. This band never seems to think the sounds that they’re making with their instruments are of Profound Importance—Argos is more interested in complaining about hangovers than attempting “poetry”, and despite having the word in their name, this band has no interest in making art with a capital A. There’s no posturing here: they’re making genuine, simple rock music, they’re “just talking to the kids”, and man is that refreshing.
Just because Art Brut don’t attempt a dramatic stylistic shift with this one, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve has been doing nothing but getting hammered between recording sessions. While the band’s earliest work did little more than create a simple (though brutally effective) punk pulpit from which Argos could shout his riotous anecdotes, with Art Brut Vs. Satan the rest of the band is, more than ever, their own entity. On the surface these songs seem to draw from the same songwriting vocabulary as those on It’s a Bit Complicated, but listen a little closer and you’ll notice the wandering bassline of “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake” and the complex guitar progressions of “Am I Normal?”. Little flourishes like these aren’t going to jump out and slap you in the face—especially when put to the service of an aesthetic that asks to be enjoyed rather than examined—but they’re there, and they’re interesting evidence of maturation in a band whose chief interest often seems to be not maturing.
But, naturally, Argos is the one who you’re going to be paying the most attention to, because it’s basically impossible to not pay attention to him. He’s the rare drunk guy at the bar who actually is as charming and interesting as he thinks himself after eight or so beers, and he manages to make what would typically be the subject of vapid Twitter updates—hangovers, songs that get stuck in your head, excitement over discovering an amazing band that you somehow didn’t know existed (in this case, it’s the Replacements)—sound instantly relatable, engaging, and often hilarious. He can’t sing (it’s not irony) and he rarely even tries, but that hardly matters because, again, that’s the whole point here.
That point is that Art Brut aren’t much more talented than any random group of kids who got bored one afternoon, decided to start jamming in the basement, and formed a band. The crucial difference between Art Brut and everyone else, though, is that they’re fully aware of this, and they thrive on it. Sure, their music won’t change the world, and neither will anyone else’s—but at least Art Brut have the guts to drop all pretense and just focus on showing us a damn good time.