Art Brut
It’s a Bit Complicated
2007
B+



art Brut? More like Fart Brut.”




That was the original review in its entirety. I mean, I love farts. You’re lying if you say you hate the farter, because anyone who does just leaves the room; everyone remaining is just jealous they can’t be the farter. Because the farter—turn him over—has the cojones to call everyone else’s bullshit, to smash the mirrors and inhale the smoke, and he does it by sharing his innermost essence. If it’s uncomfortable to be in his mi(d)st, that’s because he makes you wonder why you’re hiding yours, and who ever knows.

I like Art Brut because they’re great (melodious!) farters, and though I have some quibbles with It’s a Bit Complicated—namely its lack of urgency and its tendency to be cheeky for the heck rather than the sake of it—the album will fall near the top of my ‘07 list. Aforementioned quibbles amount to noxious exhaust from Bang Bang Rock and Roll nostalgia, the kind that will forever hurt this band with a segment of their followers because those songs are so deep rooted. Give IABC some time, us. It needs it because it’s a trickier read than its predecessor. And it’s a trickier read because it deals with more complicated problems, one of which is how to prevent being “one-shot.”

One way is to open your second shot with a song that pretends to be part of the first. I mean, sophomore-set openers almost always acknowledge The First One in some subliminal way, either by making a grand “we’re big now!” statement or by straining to reduplicate the magic. But “Pump Up the Volume” is just a song. It doesn’t struggle to do anything. If Eddie Argos delivered most of Bang Bang Rock and Roll’s made-up non-fictions about a quarter inch from your face, mingled fags and beer on his breath, now he’s leaning back in the booth, tired and hungry but glad the pub has finally started to empty out.

The big difference behind the two albums’ superficial sonic similarities lies in the direction of this one’s gaze: panoramic, rather than immediately ahead. Whereas Bang Bang Rock and Roll was drunk, It’s a Bit Complicated is sober enough to think about being drunk. The album does its best thinking in a triptych of songs on its back side, starting with the vaguely metal “I Will Survive,” which uses a superfluous key change to insist that a rent-addled Argos will, in fact, survive, and ending with the vaguely metal “Blame It on the Trains,” which overworks the contrast between arpeggiated triplets and sunset strum but not overmuch for a deep-album cut with good lyrics. In between’s the brilliant “Post Soothing Out,” probably the band’s funniest song musically (check the late ‘90s alt-rock syncopation on the beat) and not an unentertaining read, either (“I just had a nasty flashback / We both used our cards for cash-back”). The bathos here jumps the tongue like aspartame but leaves none of the aftertaste, because Argos finishes the story. (“I met your parents, and I know it sounds rough / But I’m gonna be out when they come for your stuff / So chin up now, it’s not all doom and gloom / They didn’t get around to redecorating your room.”)

Even if the album reaches a peak at its financial nadir, it’s great in less hardscrabble moments, too. “Pump Up the Volume” observes that music is not kissing but a context for kissing and wonders, Is that fair to the music? Word count prohibits a spoiler, but I will say I love Art Brut because they’re one of few bands that worry about what’s fair to the music. “Nag Nag Nag” attempts to diffuse the tension between Art Brut’s characters (who use music as wallpaper) and the band themselves (who literally subsist on indie rock) by paring the album’s dual themes down to one, smarting chorus: “A record collection reduced to a mixtape / Headphones on, I made my escape / I’m in a film with personal soundtrack / I’m leaving home and I’m never gonna come back.” Serious makers of music, Art Brut like the commitment (and the inclusiveness) of record collections; and yet they make great mixtape songs. They want to be on that desert island soundtrack, probably because they once made desert island soundtracks; but they also realize how fucking ridiculous that mission is, to ask for 5% of someone’s 80 minutes. Often, yeah, what’s fair to the music and what’s fair to listeners are often two entirely different things. But Fart Brut resolve that conflict of interest by clearing the room of anyone who doesn’t think the two can—should—look out for one another.



Reviewed by: Sam Ubl
Reviewed on: 2007-06-25
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