(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, April 15, 2011

CD review - Art Brut, Beautiful! Tragic! (2011)

Frank Zappa asked the musical question, "Whatever happened to all the fun in the world?" Finally, Eddie Argos and Art Brut have answered on Brilliant! Tragic!: it was here all the time. Art Brut's new album walks a line between pop punk thrash and post punk cool while majoring in dead pan observational humor.

Argos' hoarse, choked off vocal style works perfectly on tracks like Clever Clever Jazz. Everyone who's ever played in a band (or suffered through having a friend do so) can appreciate this sardonic take on artistic endeavors. "I'm still nervous on the way to the bar. We rehearsed the set in the back of the car" leads into "I hope my friends will come tonight, so they can see what I'm really like" which collapses into "You could say 'amateur hour' but you'd be wrong. We play for 9 minutes. We go two songs." The energy is driving and the playing is tight, which plays strongly against the tongue in cheek chorus:
Clever clever jazz, man
I'm sorry that it doesn't sound it's planned
Clever clever jazz, man
Can't you see we're doing the best that we can?
Stop shouting, "play what you know"
And let us get on with the show
Clever clever jazz, man
We' re working in a genre you don't understand
The biggest problem with Brilliant! Tragic! is that almost every song stands out. Catchy tunes, amusing lyrics, and perfect pop arrangements dominate the album. It's the kind of writing that plays to their audience's sense of cleverness, with not-too-obscure cultural references, and musical cues (like referencing the Stones' Satisfaction on Lost Weekend). Even if you tune it out and play it as background music, the songs are infectious. It's not particularly subtle as Argos emphasizes his sneering schlemiel persona, but it's all about headbanging fun.

Whether it's the polished garage rock of Sexy Sometimes ("Everybody want's to feel sexy sometimes. I can make it happen with a voice like mine") or the indie wail of Martin Kemp Welch Five A-Side Football Rules!, Art Brut invests themselves fully into each track. The thrash-fest love letter of Axel Rose is my favorite song. The execution is brilliant...and the subject is a bit tragic. "Nobody understands me or even comes close. Who've I got in my corner? Axel Rose".

The irony gets thick, but Art Brut has timed out Brilliant! Tragic! so they don't overstay their welcome. Forty minutes is short compared to the sprawl of some albums these days, but the band crams a lot in that time. The songs all sound different, which some pop punk bands can't seem to manage. The shorter run time means that you can start it over sooner and hear it all again.

Brilliant! Tragic! is due out May 24. As a bonus, Art Brut also has a separate new track, Unprofessional Wrestling, available for free download. Slam some ironically named shots and dive on in.

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