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Thursday, 26 May 2011

Album Review: Art Brut - Brilliant! Tragic!

Label: Cooking Vinyl
Released: May 23rd

Regular as clockwork, you can rely on Art Brut to put out a quality album every two years. And we all know what to expect, buzzsaw guitars, art-punk anthems and a bloke talking over the top about girls, pop music and comic books. Well; check, check and …sorta check. You see, the big shock about Art Brut’s fourth album is that Mr Eddie Argos has actually learnt how to sing.

Lead single ‘Lost Weekend’ is a good example of this, and a continuation of Art Brut’s fascination with weekends. The whispered singing may imply that Eddie still isn’t fully comfortable with his new-found skill, but with the singles tale of drunkenness and romance it’s easy to envisage this as the necessity of a thumping hangover. More conventionally delivered is ‘Clever Clever Jazz’, a steady builder of a song that lurches into shouty punk choruses.

Elsewhere Art Brut demonstrate how far they’ve grown under the guidance of producer Frank Black. ‘Is Dog Eared’ in particular confines the guitars to staccato stabs on hard pans, whilst Freddie Feedbacks utterly fantastic sounding bass rumbles through what one of Art Brut’s longest songs ever. There are even a couple of quieter moments in ‘Sexy Sometimes’ and the acoustic intro to ‘Ice Hockey’, the former self-deprecatingly tender and bruised, the latter startling even in the context of Brilliant! Tragic!.

When it all boils down to it however, this is still very much an Art Brut album and you’ll not mistake it as anyone else. There’s wonderful and humorous lyrics throughout, a reminder of the days when people assumed the band were a novelty, with the best coming in ‘Bad Comedian’. “He dresses like he came free with the NME. How can you bear to hold his hand? I bet he signs his name in Comic Sans.” is possibly the best put-down outside of rap and is delivered with perfect timing, immediately discrediting the new boyfriend of an ex with truly Argos-ian wit.

On top of all of the expected and unexpected, it also needs noting that Brilliant! Tragic! Contains Art Brut’s most full on songs to date. ‘Martin Kemp Welch Five A-Side Football Rules’ and ‘Axl Rose’ are both blistering punk-pop hits that strip away all of their evolution and go straight for the jugular. “When the world’s got you by the fucking throat! Who do you want in your corner? Axl Rose!” is so ferociously delivered that it breaks down even KPL’s prejudices against the titular singer.

Closing with ‘Sealand’ is a wonderful move. A simple love song that even resolves It’s A Bit Complicated’s ‘People In Love’. Most shockingly of all ‘Sealand’ suggests that Eddie has found contentment. His relationship is transported somewhere outside of jurisdiction, somewhere isolated and somewhere that the two of them can truly build their own world. It’s all that any of us want at the end of the day, and Eddie’s way of getting straight to the heart of his songs subject and fans hearts means that it’s a perfect closing statement for the record.

If there’s one tragedy about this brilliant album it’s that now that Art Brut are established and the initial excitement of their existence is gone it’s going to get taken for granted.

Art Brut!
Mercury Prize!
Art Brut!
Mercury Prize!

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