Art Brut – Art Brit Vs. Satan (Downtown Records)

Three albums in, Art Brut have become a known quantity. It’s pretty safe to say that they aren’t going to surprise you with forays into dub or psych-folk anytime soon, but that’s probably for the best. Even if they’re dishing out slices of the same ol’pie, Art Brut vs. Satan is solid and it improves with successive listens. The band still churn out pop-punk influenced Brit-pop ditties (with production from Frank Black, under the Black Francis moniker) and Eddie Argos is still the life of the party, throwing out instantly quotable lines with the speed of a lyrically nimble rapper. Some of the topics he covers are public transportation (“The Passenger”), the fun and eventual regret of drunken antics (“Alcoholics Unanimous”, “What A Rush” and “Mysterious Bruises”), and the simple joys of childhood (“DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake”) . On a triptych of songs where Argos lets loose a venomous attack on the music industry (“Demons Out”, “Slap Dash For No Cash”, and “The Replacements”), he comes across like a modern-day Upton Sinclair leaving comments on an NME message board, rallying against the record-buying public’s fickle tastes, lambasting bands who try to sound like U2, and then gushing over the virtues of The Replacements. Perhaps the music occasionally seems tossed off (a topic they cover themselves on “Slap Dash For No Cash”) and the conversational tone of Argos vocals lead you to believe he’s not trying very hard, but the reality is Art Brut have put out three good albums in three years with no signs of slowing  down.

Art Brut – It’s A Bit Complicated (Downtown Records)

Art Brut’s second album has the same qualities that made their 2006 debut Bang Bang Rock and Roll such great fun (lead singer Eddie  Argos’ humorous lyrics and talking delivery, laid down over punky Brit-pop riffs), yet somehow it’s less interesting. Art Brut’s high level of camp indicated from the get-go that they probably weren’t the kind of band that would still be playing together in their fifties, but on It’s a Bit Complicated they appear to have run out of ideas quicker than expected. The album’s shortcomings are largely due to Eddie Argos’ tamer vocals. Although his lyrics are still clever observational neuroticism, they’re less instantly quotable, and his new obsession with pop-songs (heard on “Pump Up The Volume” and “Sounds Of Summer”) isn’t as interesting as “Modern Art” or his ode to impotence “Rusted Guns Of Milan” were. Still, It’s A Bit Complicated  has some strong tunes (“Direct Hit” is a pretty successful attempt at writing a “hit” song), but doesn’t come close to their hyper-creative debut.

Art Brut – Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Downtown Records)

The first time I listened to Art Brut’s debut album, I absolutely hated it. It seemed like an insincere joke on the audience made by a bunch of no-talents. Then I kept listening to it over and over again. The more I listened, the more Art Brut charmed my pants off with their energetic rock, influenced by post-punk and Brit-pop, without owing much to either genre. Not bad for a band that formed just 18 months before releasing this album, and who had the good foresight to write a song about the event – debut single “Formed A Band” – reportedly slapped together five minutes after they formed.

Art Brut’s biggest weapon is lead singer Eddie Argos, who, truth be told, is more of a “speaker” than a singer – a fact he cleverly turns into lyrical fodder on “Formed A Band” when he says “And yes, this is my singing voice”. Argos may have an acquired taste of a voice like The Fall’s Mark E. Smith or Billy Childish, but he’s a fantastic lyricist; conjuring up interesting tales of teenage love (“Emily Kane”), male impotence (“Rusted Guns Of Milan”), school yard fights (“These Animal Menswe@r”) and of course the obligatory song about running headfirst at a Matisse painting at the Pompidou (“Modern Art”). It should keep you interested for a long time to come.