Art Brut‘s It’s A Bit Complicated was released and marketed by Mute as part of EMI / Labels. Consisting of Eddie Argos (vocals), Ian Catskilkin (guitar), Freddy Feedback (bass), Mikey Breyer (drums), and Jasper Future (guitar), Art Brut were a band unafraid to take musical cues from disparate parts of the rock music spectrum – metal, punk, ska, emotional power rock, you name it.
Their musical magpie tendencies were fronted by the truly original Argos, whose spoken vocals are both as punk as you can imagine while also having an unerring capacity for amusing couplets, wry observation and the sort of poetic musings that rarely find their way onto records, such as using late-running trains as an excuse for sleeping in; the closing track, ‘Jealous Guy’ – not the John Lennon song, just an opportunity to rob a good song title – finds an angsty, desperate Argos trying to wake up his girlfriend because he’s concerned that they don’t have sex any longer, getting manic and jealous that the same pattern didn’t emerge when she was with her ex. I can’t think of another band and vocalist capable of such dry, detached musing.
Elsewhere, there are preoccupations with pop music on the single ‘Pump Up The Volume’ and ‘Sound Of Summer’. The latter has a relaxed, laidback sound with a chorus that talks of making mixtapes, fetishising the act of pressing play and record, a process that pretty soon no-one will remember; in less optimistic fashion, there’s also negative talk about how all pop songs are about a boy meeting a girl but that the narrator’s life didn’t turn out that way. There’s also a small nod toward false optimism with a belief that taking the tabs out of a cassette will stop it getting recorded over. ‘Sound Of Summer’ links neatly to the single ‘Nag Nag Nag Nag’ which immediately follows, a song which is much less positive about reducing a record collection down to mere mixtapes; meanwhile, the Fratellis-esque ‘I Will Survive’ (another cheekily borrowed title) includes a line about selling a record collection just to pay for a party. Further cynicism comes through on ‘People In Love’ which finds Argos getting down on the whole love thing and its futility. ‘People in love lie around and get fat,’ he says in the song’s opening moments. Musically, ‘People In Love’ has nice Sixties references mixed in with dirty guitar. ‘Late Sunday Evening’ has a tidy Dexy’s ska-punk vibe – complete with brass from The Kick Horns (familiar from their contribution to Mute albums including Erasure‘s The Innocents) with ‘Love Cats’-esque jazziness. It makes for a refreshing, truly euphoric sound.
Two clear highlights emerge in the form of ‘St. Pauli’ and ‘Post Soothing Out’. The former features heavy, prominent bass from Freddy Feedback and Franz Ferdinand-style preposterous guitar riffs mixed in with raw, unbridled energy. ‘Sorry if my accent’s flawed / I learned my German from a 7″ record‘ is one of the best lines ever committed to a song, delivered in response to the chorus about punk music which is sung in faltering German. Like some of Graham Lewis‘s best lyrics, ‘St. Pauli’ jumps from one theme to another, here being a mix of talk about family, talk about love, and then the chorus about punk. ‘The kids don’t like it / What else can we do when the kids don’t like it?‘ ponders Eddie Argos with a shrug, all delivered over snarling effervescence. ‘Post Soothing Out’ possesses some truly fantastic riffs, as well as a few handclaps, and a mood that sits somewhere between joyfulness and breakup-inspired negativity.
It’s A Bit Complicated was produced by the band with Dan Swift, who had previously worked with The Futureheads, Snow Patrol and many others. The album would prove to be their only release for EMI / Labels / Mute, which may or may not have been something to do with EMI releasing the album’s third single, ‘Pump Up The Volume’, without any discussion with the band.
Originally published 2012; edited 2016.
(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence