When Art Brut broke out of Bournemouth, U.K. with Bang Bang Rock and Roll in 2005, there was every reason to believe they’d be a one-hit wonder. Singles like “I Formed a Band” and “My Little Brother” featured vocalist Eddie Argos’ engaging talk-sing laid over poppy, but simplistic garage-rock. Thoroughly enjoyable, it also seemed clear that there was no way that the band could recapture that initial surprise and spark past one record. Yet Art Brut persevered with 2007’s It’s a Bit Complicated (QRO review), improving their instrumentation and even Argos’ singing ability, as he further mined his own life for material. And now with the awesomely titled Art Brut Vs. Satan, the group continues that trend: not as funny, but better music.
Live (QRO review), Art Brut can feel a little like ‘Eddie & The Argonauts’, thanks to Argos’ ultra-engaging frontman work, and that has bled over into the recorded material, so focused on Argos’ lyrics. But more than ever before, Satan sees the band’s instrumentation take a real step up in quality and importance – though part of that is because Argos’ words aren’t as excellent, and thus also not as prominent. There’s no way he could repeat the catchy, cheeky charm of lines like “My little brother / just discovered rock and roll” or “Is it so wrong? / To break from your kiss / To turn up the pop song?” Instead, Argos explores a more poor man’s philosophical side, which had shown dashes of greatness on Complicated, but only when really sung, and married to more accomplished rhythm and guitar (such as with “Post Soothing Out”). This is when Satan reaches its high points, and Argos – and his band – are capable enough to vary, from the catchy single “Alcoholics Unanimous” to the lost childhood nature of the following “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes”, plus upswinging anthems like “The Passenger” (celebrating public transportation), “Demons Out!” (denouncing record charts), and “The Replacements” (bemoaning only just discovering the seminal ‘Mats, through their re-releases – QRO re-release reviews).
However, there are also tracks on Satan where the group doesn’t fully come together, leaving something that feels a bit like paint-by-the-numbers Art Brut. Pieces like “Twist and Shout” and “Slap Dash For No Cash” lack that special something, leaving them feeling a bit like every other Art Brut song, only without a reason to remember them. And even as Argos gets older, his lyrical world seems most focused on his younger days, which can get a bit repetitive with songs such as “Am I Normal?” or “Summer Job”.
Of course, that’s a bit of a problem with comparing Art Brut Vs. Satan to previous Art Brut records: the last two had forgettable tracks, too, but… you forgot about them. What’s really to be taken away from this record (produced by The Pixies’ Black Francis – QRO album review) is that Art Brut are actually managing to evolve from a seeming one-hit wonder into an accomplished band, without losing their great spirit.