Art Brut | It's a Bit Complicated (Downtown)

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cd_art-brutThe high marks I've given this record are really a testament to the music. While Argos seems to have regressed a tad in his writing and delivery, guitarist Ian Catskilkin has moved well beyond the power chords, and catchy yet undemanding fretwork of Bang Bang for guitar stylings that are a bit more complicated.

 

 

 

In many ways, listening to Art Brut's fantastic 2005 debut Bang Bang Rock + Roll is a lot like listening to the last two Ween albums: either you get it or you don't, but you don't really have to get it to like it. Sure, Eddie Argos' plain-spoken critiques and incredibly-close-to-home parodies of himself, hipsterdom, and the rock 'n' roll lifestyle were spot-on hilarious, but they don't have to strike any chords (or make sense, really) for the album's infectiously rollicking guitar melodies to register. It's kind of like watching Discovery Channel's Planet Earth—obviously, it's be better in HD, but I'm not going to bitch about the picture quality when I'm seeing the first ever Amur Leopard on film.

This is half true on It's a Bit Complicated, the band's hotly anticipated sophomore effort. Again, Argos' vocals aren't crucial to the album's artistic concept and the other band members (guitarist Ian Catskilkin especially) make the album stand out by themselves. However, unlike on Bang Bang Rock + Roll, Argos' lyricism and non-singing aren't a welcome garnish on an already delicious cake-they actually kind of suck.

The crazed sarcasm of songs like "Formed a Band" ("We're gonna be the band/ that writes the song/ that makes Israel and Palestine get along") and "Good Weekend," (I've seen her naked TWICE!!!") has been replaced by a kind of tired, repetitive patois of topics, motifs, and clichés. On Complicated, Argos is less Gene Ween and more The Hold Steady's Craig Finn circa-Boys and Girls of America, rehashing old ideas that are admittedly interesting, but without really breathing new life into them. The wistful, tongue-in-cheek "People in Love" is Complicated's "Emily Kane," the sexually insecure "Jealous Guy" is "Rusted Guns of Milan," and fan-boy song-about-songs anthem "Sound of Summer" is "My Little Brother." He does dabble in some newish territory (fame, poverty, being famous and poor), and the album has some snappy lines ("Wet trousers in the washing machine/ but I'd rather be damp than seen in jeans"), but overall, Argos' songwriting has taken a turn for the trite.

The high marks I've given this record are really a testament to the music. While Argos seems to have regressed a tad in his writing and delivery, guitarist Ian Catskilkin has moved well beyond the power chords, and catchy yet undemanding fretwork of Bang Bang for guitar stylings that are a bit more complicated (boo-yah!). From the cascading syncopations of "I Will Survive" to the crunchy hook of "Jealous Guy" to the irresistible riff of single "Nag Nag Nag Nag," probably the best music the band has made to date, this is a record propelled by emotionally complex, diverse guitar parts that are as fist-pumping as they are infectiously funny. Similar to the way Ween mocks country music by playing perfectly convincing textbook country that is both funny and kind of good, Catskilkin antagonizes music icons like Lou Reed and Thurston Moore by reveling in the kind of grandiosely catchy excess that they oppose, a tactic hinted at on Bang Bang but perfect on Complicated.

Ultimately, it is difficult to gauge the sum push-pull between Art Brut's growth and recession from their first record to their second. The witty anthems of Bang Bang Rock + Roll have vanished, only to have been replaced by equally catchy, equally sarcastic guitars. For a band whose m.o. is so reliant on literacy and verbal wit, it is definitely a problem to go without Argos' songwriting, but you have to think that—given as much promise as Art Brut has shown on their first two releases—they will eventually find the point where everything clicks. Not to take anything away from what is absolutely a solid album and worthwhile achievement, but as many said after Bang Bang Rock + Roll, it looks like it will take one more album for that to happen. B- | Mikey Goralnik

RIYL: The Hold Steady, Franz Ferdinand, Andrew WK

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