After the success of its 2005 debut, Bang Bang Rock and Roll, Art Brut encouraged aspiring punks everywhere to take its songs and start local chapters of the band. Licensing Art Brut “franchises” was a brilliant marketing strategy, especially for guys that demystified the mechanics of forming a band. Its entire debut cast lead “singer” Eddie Argos as some obsessive record collector who’d unwittingly wandered into his rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. When he bleated “Formed a band/ We formed a band” on Bang Bang Rock and Roll‘s opener “Formed a Band,” it was a rally cry that contained as much astonished disbelief as emphatic celebration. In essence, Argos bridged the gap between rock-star performer and fanatical spectator. He ranted like a linear, self-absorbed Mark E. Smith, but his diatribes were decidedly earth-bound: listening to a little brother’s mixtapes; pining away for his high school sweetheart; and reading NME. So the concept behind the “franchise” bands made perfect sense (even if only a handful actually emerged): If Argos can do it, anybody can.
Sadly, Art Brut sounds like a franchise band itself on follow-up It’s a Bit Complicated, retracing the steps of its funny and fiery debut like passionless imitators. On these new songs, Argos sticks to safe territory. He decries lovers becoming old and fat, debates interrupting a kiss to draw attention to a pop song, and remains in hot pursuit of mixtape nirvana. But on Complicated, he sounds flatter, almost bored, and his cadence is forced and contrived. More so than the debut’s, these songs fare like standup comedy on repeated listens: Once the punch lines are spoiled, who wants to listen to a joke again?
There is some redeeming music on the album, with the band shifting toward sprightly Brit pop. (Perhaps Argos has switched tactics for securing a Top of the Pops performance?) In particular, “People in Love” is a catchy if de-clawed tune. “Direct Hit” aims for the incendiary aggression of the debut, but it’s ultimately more of a “near-miss” than the heat-seeking impact the title implies.
As a music critic, there’s a special place in my heart for Argos’s snobbish devotion to pop music, so it pains me to admit that great taste apparently has no relation to creating great music. Bang Bang Rock and Roll may have been an effortless stroke of genius, but it definitely wasn’t a career blueprint. At its best, It’s a Bit Complicated reveals glimmers of its predecessor’s glory. At its worse, it sinks into blasé monotone. If Art Brut expects to increase its franchise offshoots, it will need to diversify its offerings. And for a band so entrenched in formula, that could be a bit complicated.
“Nag Nag Nag Nag” MP3