"I like modern art; it makes me want to rock out," says Art Brut singer Eddie Argos through an almost absurd Cockney accent by phone from South London. "But my next band will be called Brewery or Distillery because right now each time we travel, people only want to take us to museums."
There is no reason to doubt Argos may sincerely believe that writing, say, a song such as "Brewed a Pint" would result in first a trickle then a steady flow of frothy attention. After all, Art Brut -- named for French painter Jean Dubuffet's definition of outsider art -- established a critically touted reputation and opens its debut full-length, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, with the song "Formed a Band." Because, well, the quintet did form a band, even if said band's original expectation was only to be found in the Camden Record Exchange discount bin. And while Art Brut hasn't played "Top of the Pops" eight weeks in a row or written "the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along" (both not quite self-fulfilling prophecies in "Formed a Band"), the group has continued to ingratiate itself to critics and listeners alike with roguish yet doughy directness.
Citing, among others, Jad Fair and über-naïf Jonathan Richman -- who wrote "Ice Cream Man" about, well, there's no metaphor to unpack there -- Argos exults bratty simplicity to an almost excruciating degree. "We're just talking to the kids," he exclaims in "Formed a Band." "My past is my business," he concludes in that song, and indeed, the majority of Art Brut communiqués consist of anecdotes -- about ex-girlfriends, bending and folding new girlfriends, little brothers rocking out of control, a call for rock to stop cannibalizing the Velvet Underground, and running shirtless down L.A.'s Sunset Strip.
While being interviewed, Argos is quite enthusiastic to recount different countries' snacks he's encountered, especially Dutch milk shakes and nibbling through Germany, where the group (which includes two German members) has appeared on "Top of the Pops" and made the cover of German Rolling Stone. It's that conversational, comfortable-in-your-company straightforwardness that turns smarm to charm, and the dry yet exclamatory delivery -- deliberately sloppy, choppy three-chords part Pulp, the Fall, and the New York Dolls -- that raises banal to anthemic.
"All our songs are meant to be cathartic, even if that means embarrassing," says Argos. "And for a new single, we've written about being poor and young, lying around in bed with a girlfriend and being grown-up but not wiser. I think everyone misses their girlfriend, etc. I think at 27 I have the same emotions as at 17, I just hide it better."
Some emotions, however, are not so cleverly hidden. The song "Emily Kane" chronicles Argos' decade-long infatuation with a real Ms. Emily Kane. Since its release, Kane has heard her song sung on the bus and she and Argos have spoken. Kane is fit and happy with a boyfriend, while Argos has realized that while he loved her, he became more infatuated over time with the idea of loving her. Art Brut songs encapsulate fantasies and frustrations without ignoring how inseparable both are.
Not all the first-person narratives have such a satisfying resolution, however. On the B-side "These Animal Menswear," an actual ex-girlfriend attempts suicide. And you have to give it to a band that makes self-deprecating centerpieces of erectile dysfunction ("Rusted Guns of Milan") and infidelity (B-side "Really Bad Weekend") against heaving dynamics.
"I always feel bad singing at all-ages shows about bad sex, giving people an idea of what might happen when they reach maturity," says Argos. "Maybe I should write a sex primer for another single; I'm much better at sex since those songs.
"There still might be some songs about sitting lonely, but there will also always be songs about getting drunk and going to the cinema," Argos concludes. "I might try flowers, wine and an amazing sense of humor before the bending and folding this next time. We're ramshackle with short attention spans and have always been about using music to make friends, and we think the best means to do that is getting things out in the open. Then we'll all go out for a pint, and maybe that will make it into a song, too."