Excuse me, Mr. DJ, can you cue up “Formed a Band,” please?
[Guitar riff begins.]
When I was thirteen, I started my first band, which had no name. I would play bar-chord progressions while my friend Nathan thumped out a rudimentary beat on his broken-down drum kit. Meanwhile, the other member of the band, Justin, who didn’t have an instrument and refused to play the bass we borrowed, would call girls we knew and tell them about the band. Sometimes they’d even listen to us over the phone as we played the one original song we knew at one of two practice spaces: the patio of my parents’ house in rural Illinois or Justin’s garage in the bustling metropolis of Waggoner (population: 200). None of us sang.
Obviously, the band didn’t last very long. We didn’t have anywhere near the prospects of U.K. rock outfit Art Brut, but it’s hard for me not to think of that time, when anything was possible. On the aforementioned first track of Art Brut’s tour de exuberance, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, when frontman Eddie Argos sing/speaks, “We’re gonna write a song as universal as ‘Happy Birthday’ that makes sure everybody knows that everything is going to be okay,” that is how we felt. And that’s how I feel when I listen to pleasantly punk raucous throwaways such as “18000 Lira” and “Fight” – like everything’s going to be fine.
When I was fifteen, my girlfriend at the time handed me the first true broken heart of my life. We were going through a rough time (or, as rough a time as fifteen-year-olds in “love” can go through, anyway). There was another guy involved, and she ended up dumping me. I don’t really think of her all that often these days, but I kind of wish I could claim the kind of lingering lost love that Argos does on “Emily Kane.” He yells, “I want school kids on buses singing your name,” and I tear up. Mock me if you must, but the sentiment is real.
On the other side of it is “Good Weekend.” If ever there was a song that epitomizes that youthful feeling of new love, this is it. “I’ve seen her nakedtwice!” Argos shrieks mid-track. These songs have occurred in the past (the Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” and the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There” spring to mind), but Art Brut has laid out the modern day’s whirlwind affair in less than three minutes. All this, without even going into how much fun this stuff is to sing along to.
When I was eighteen, some friends and I piled into a car and made the six-hour drive from mid-Missouri to Chicago to see the Hives. Before the show, the band piled out of a taxicab, and I, fan boy that I was, got each member’s autograph on the liner notes of Veni Vidi Vicious. Later that night, we experienced one of the most exciting rock shows any of us had seen in our music-loving lives.
Hives lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist is very much the Swedish doppelganger of Argos. And in many ways, Art Brut could be considered the thinking-man’s version of the Hives. Guitar lines parallel each other between the bands, as does the cockiness, upbeat tempos, handclaps, the list goes on. For whatever reason, though, especially on songs such as “My Little Brother,” “Modern Art” and the title track, the members of Art Brut manage to infuse humor without pushing it too far. Or maybe they do push it too far, and that’s why it feels more important. It’s hard to say, really. It’s easier to get swept up and sweaty while listening to these songs.
Perusing these coming-of-age tales may cause some readers to infer that Art Brut is a band only to be enjoyed by youngsters without much experience under their belts. Not true. The unabashed fun of Bang Bang Rock & Roll is just that, and Argos proclaims on “Formed a Band” that “we’re just talking to the kids!” But these are ultimately relatable and re-listenable songs. Don’t blame them for bringing to mind thoughts of yesteryear to one writer. For that matter
When I’m sixty-four, and one of my grandkids asks me to play some music for him, I’ll tell him the story of Art Brut. Then I’ll pop in this disc, and together we’ll yell, “Formed a band, we formed a band! Look at us! We formed a band!”
“Emily Kane” video