British tongue-in-cheek garage rockers Art Brut are a bit more serious, but still stick largely to their script, in their sophomore follow-up, It’s A Bit Complicated. The Bournemouth band exploded onto the scene in 2005 with Bang Bang Rock and Roll, a collection of dance-jump anthems wherein lead singer Eddie Argos poked straight-faced fun at everything from starting the band to male impotence, all with a conversational alt-Brit voice that he had to insist was “not irony”. On It’s A Bit Complicated, Art Brut’s late seventies/early eighties garage-punk gets, well, a bit more complicated, with Argos shifting away a bit from the straight comedy, but the band largely rides the same peaks and valleys of their unique sound.
Complicated opener “Pump Up The Volume” epitomizes this, with its frank, winsome, catchy-yet-not-too-bright alt-pop/rock that has humor, but doesn’t let it dominate. Closer “Jealous Guy” roughly matches this spirit, not too humorous, not too serious, with vocals that mix well with its garage-punk guitars. There are other attempts at this take in-between, but it’s really the case with Art Brut that, if a song of theirs doesn’t blow you away, it lacks a certain something. “St. Pauli” feels a bit like filler with a slower rhythm and too many outright references to “punk rock”, while “Late Sunday Evening” reads like the soundtrack to an important walk.
Art Brut goes a straighter-up upbeat route other times on Complicated, such as with the record’s latest single, “Direct Hit”, a driving dance-punk anthem fit for The Ramones or The Clash. But the other stabs in this direction don’t put it all together quite as well. The messier, harder, more ‘rock’ “I Will Survive” lacks the great Art Brut lyrics. “Blame It On The Trains” has those, plus a catchy, bopping beat and epic guitars, but they don’t quite work in concert well enough.
The best, and certainly most interesting, side of Art Brut on It’s A Bit Complicated is their most serious one. There are a few good-but-not-great tracks in this vein, like the sunny-sad “People In Love” and the summer vacation-set “Sound of Summer” (one thing Eddie Argos still has is a teens and early twenties point-of-view), but it also delivers probably the two best songs on the album, “Nag Nag Nag Nag Nag” and “Post Soothing Out”. “Nag”, Complicated’s first single, is a catchy, interesting, and enjoyable number about running away from home, with wonderful alt-country/rock guitars. But, if anything, “Post” exceeds that, with great guitar licks and emotional, gets-to-you vocals that prove touching, as well as catchy and interesting, with the piece even getting ‘big’ at times.
After Bang Bang Rock And Roll, there was no way Art Brut would be able to be as surprising and interesting the second time around, and every reason to fear that they would prove a worn-out one-trick pony. And on It’s A Bit Complicated, Art Brut doesn’t try to reinvent itself, which means that the record does lack the fresh brashness of Bang tracks like “Formed A Band”. However, Complicated is not a simple retread or repeat, as the band slips a bit more seriousness – and complexity – into the mix. Moreover, the Art Brut sound is not something that’s really been played out yet, and hopefully never will.