Nowadays, it seems the new musical pretentiousness is to exhaustingly emphasize one’s unpretentiousness. Ditch the heavily publicized substance abuse, rumors of gargantuan penis size, bedpost tic marks and that acutely choreographed stage strut, man. Instead, assert your painfully self-aware, shamefully self-deprecating normal-dude shtick! Direct hit!
Indeed, English ruffians Art Brut are still at the very same approach they first introduced with 2005’s cheeky “Bang Bang Rock & Roll.” Sure, ringleader Eddie Argos once confessed of his desire to “write the song / that makes Israel and Palestine get along,” but it was doubtful he’d ever get around to it – he was too busy drinking heavily, “not getting” modern art (and subsequently thrashing about it) and having performance issues in the bedroom.
Of course Art Brut wouldn’t buck up and mature come their sophomore record, “It’s a Bit Complicated.” If they were to soften or sober up the candor of Argos’ devilishly witty storytelling, or make their minimalist, gritty-goofy punk rock too slick, it would compromise Art Brut’s need to prove to you, through varying levels of admittedly charming desperation, how they can still get regular.
In the wake of their debut’s surprising success, “It’s a Bit Complicated,” sounds precisely that – a tad bigger, a wee bolder and a lot more assured. Each of the album’s 11 songs is played with a spankin’ new swagger, the quintet adding strongly developed individual elements to co-create a sound that’s raucous and ready in a different way from their first attempt.
Eventually though, the tracks begin to run together and sound alike, further intensified by Argos’ endearing-but-limited vocal abilities (think speak-singing, like a British Craig Finn). Most of “It’s a Bit Complicated” focuses on the same two-step tempos, amped-up guitars and soaring background vocals, an approach that’s either totally radical or overly repetitive, depending on your level of sobriety.
Still, the lyrical quality is there more than ever, and when Argos laments of getting fat, anxiety-induced insomnia and his interrupting a steamy makeout session to turn up a pop song, it’s hard not to want to knock back a pint with him. For now at least – this is only Art Brut’s second stab at intentional ordinariness, so we’ll wait to see if it’s a gimmick, and if so, how long that gimmick lasts.