Art Brut appears to have regressed. The band’s 2005 debut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, reveled in its own immaturity, with power chord instrumentation, a singer who couldn’t sing, and lyrics so blunt as to be almost anti-poetry. Then, with 2007’s It’s A Bit Complicated, Art Brut released neither a photocopy of their debut nor an album more stylistically fitting of a “real” band — the kind with a record contract and actual fans. Instead, what the band delivered sounded like a natural progression. Eddie Argos kept shouting more than singing, but suddenly his anti-poetry began to seem poetic, while the music morphed from rollicking pop punk to a more calculated art-punk, featuring winding guitar leads and background vocals galore.
Now, with Art Brut vs. Satan, the band is back to where it started. Sort of. What …Complicated lacked, at times, was urgency and Satan more than makes up for it. There are more of the vicious power chords and sing-along moments that made …Rock and Roll so arresting, but also present are Complicated’s complexity and lyricism. Art Brut vs. Satan takes the best elements of each previous album and fuses them to create the band’s most listenable and consistent work yet.
Argos has described the sessions for the album, produced by Pixies front man Frank Black, as “punk as fuck,” and it shows: the band sounds forceful, virile, and unburdened. The best change is in the recording of Argos’ vocals: previously they seemed canned somehow, but here he sounds just as if he were rambling and shouting on stage, not in a recording booth.
The songs on Art Brut vs. Satan fall into one of four categories: songs about alcohol, songs about girls, songs about music, and songs about never growing up. Opener “Alcoholics Unanimous” falls squarely into the first category. “Bring me tea!/Bring me coffee!” Argos demands in a hangover anthem that proves an energetic, successful opener. “Am I Normal?” is the first of the album’s truly transcendent songs, the product of both maturation and regression: it’s too subtle for …Rock & Roll, but too loose for …Complicated. And it’s beautiful. Over a rolling bass line and winding guitars, Argos rambles about being young and in love and having no idea what to do about it, eschewing his standard punctuated style of speaking for something exquisitely human.
“Demons Out!”, Art Brut’s new mission statement and the album’s most triumphant missive charges forward with determined enthusiasm. It’s the sort of song that leads armies… armies of music geeks, at least. The band resolves to defeat every opponent, from the crap bands to the brain-dead consumers. “Slap Dash for No Cash” celebrates lo-fi tape hiss, background noise and the sincerity of amateurism. The album’s final highlights are “The Replacements”, both an ode to the band and a plea for more sincerity in music, and the seven-minute closer “Mysterious Bruiser”, which impressively does not overstay its welcome.
Art Brut have now created three solid pop-punk albums as nerdy as they are sincere, officially grabbing the trophy from Weezer, whose geeky honesty didn’t make it past Pinkerton. “I wanted rock ‘n roll, I got a science museum!” Argos laments on “Demons Out!” And that’s why bands like Art Brut exist — to weave through the innovating masses and just play rock music.