Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 93)
In another life, Eddie Argos was a music critic. His keen wit, contrarian positions (“I can’t stand the sound of the Velvet Underground!” from “Bang Bang Rock & Roll”), and total lack of musical ability yet overwhelming desire to make music practically guarantee a contributor position on this sinking ship we call Sputnik. Yet he didn’t let that last issue stop him from forming a band anyway, hiring a band by placing an ad in the back pages of the NME (which Argos “hasn’t read in so long” from “Bad Weekend”) and installed himself as lead singer despite not being able to sing.
54 seconds into the first song on Art Brut’s doubt Bang Bang Rock & Roll
and Eddie Argos gets to the question on everyone’s mind: “Yes, this is my singing voice, it is not irony. We’re just talking, to the kids.” Argos’ voice, a cockney brogue that’s constantly justifying to you why it vomited on your couch, is a confrontational instrument to say the least. Eddie Argos hints at melodies occasionally but for the most part he’s yelping, barking, and belting in a key not yet defined by music theory. Thank god that Argos can write the hell out of a lyric. Bang Bang Rock & Roll
is probably the funniest indie rock album of all time, not a crowded field to be sure but as a corrective to the po-faced masses of downstrummers emerging with the post-punk revival Art Brut were a huge relief in 2004.
Where Arogos’ voice lacks in anything approaching typical chops he more than compensates for it by being a fantastic writer. Think Morrissey, Mike Skinner, and Jarvis Cocker smashed together. Opener “Formed A Band” finds Argos declaring “We’re going to write a song that makes Israel and Palestine get along”, then, if that wasn’t quite bold enough, We’re going to write a song as universal as happy birthday [...] We're gonna take that song, we're gonna play it eight weeks in a row on Top of the Pops.” It’s funny, not because they actually thought they could do that, but because it accentuates how many indie bands don’t even try. Art Brut stood out because they really went for it and risked embarrassment while so many of their peers were more than happy to look pretty in a leather jacket and sound like a 4th rate Velvet Underground.
For as many (hilarious) judgements Eddie Argos rains down upon his indie brethren, he saves the sharpest knives for himself. He’s still in love with his middle school girlfriend (“Emily Kane”), he gets his ass kicked (“Fight”), he’s too old for popular culture (“Bad Weekend”), and robs a bank for “18,000 Lira” (“Sounds like a lot of money!”) or 10 American dollars. Not coincidentally, the best songs on Bang Bang Rock & Roll
are also the funniest. On “My Little Brother” Argos is exasperated at his sibling’s newfound enthusiasm for the music he’s been living with for ages. “He made me a tape of Bootlegs and B-sides/And every song, every single song on that tape/Said exactly the same thing/Why don't our parents worry about us?/Why don't our parents worry about us?
” On “Emily Kane”, Argos pines after his adolescent girlfriend who he’s still not over (“If memory serves we’re still on a break”), so he’s doubling down on the song’s hooks because he “wants schoolkids on buses singing your name”. With all this self-deprecation going around then of course best song on Bang Bang Rock & Roll
is about Argos’ inability to get it up (“Rusted Guns of Milan”), which features the album’s best punchline (“I'm sorry, I'm so sorry/Can I get you a cup of coffee?... Don't tell your friends!
”) delivered over a sea of limp-dicked “waa-ooo’s”.
The tragedy inside the joke that is Art Brut is that Eddie Argos was serious. He didn’t want to be an indie darling selling out modest venues, he really did want to play Top of the Pops and “drink Hennessy with Morrisey” out in LA. But the UK singles charts weren’t having Argos’ elementary grasp of melody and “Emily Kane” stalled one place outside the top 40. By 2009 they’d be resigning themselves to naming their greatest hits album Top of the Pops
and insisting “We make pop music!” but for their moment they were an incredibly funny corrective to an exhaustingly serious indie music scene.