“Yes, this is my singing voice, it’s not irony, it’s not rock and roll, we’re just talking to the kids,” Art Brut’s frontman Eddie Argos shouted on the bands debut single, “Formed A Band,” which has served as a suitably meta-manifesto of sorts since Art Brut’s start. In a number of respects, the self-referential single (and much of what Argos has to say about rock in numerous Art Brut songs), is analogous to the commentary that James Murphy provided in the LCD Soundsystem “Losing My Edge” single.
“Sorry if my accent’s flawed,” Argos says in “St. Pauli Girl,” “I learned my German from a seven-inch record.”
Unlike Murphy’s electronic dance music milieu, Art Brut firmly ensconces itself in the traditional rock line-up of guitar bass and drums (and keyboards). The band has always fought against the perception of being an “art band,” despite the namesake. While purists would argue with the appellation, many refer to Art Brut as one of the finest punk bands operating today, with its rollicking punk energy and songs possessing a punk pace. Given Argos’s style of non-singing and his intelligent, if occasionally stridently anti-intellectual lyrics, it’s difficult not to deem Art Brut The Fall of the 21st century.
Argos writes on his March 5, 2013 blog entry about descriptors dropped on the band, “not all of them polite,” and argues (apparently not ironically, since he’s vehemently against irony) that Art Brut has earned a place in the classic rock pantheon. He cites landing the cover of German Rolling Stone and being held in “universal regard” by peers and the general public among other title requisites as proof of Art Brut’s deserving. Reached via email, Argos is pressed to provide additional support for his position that they should now be called a classic rock band, but says he believes his blog points should be more than sufficient. Although, he admittedly cannot prove his last claim.
“Actually, with that last one I’ve never checked with our peers and have very little to do with the general public but am fairly certain that is the case,” Argos further qualifies.
To celebrate Art Brut’s 10th anniversary, and reinforce its newly self-christened title as “a classic rock band,” the quintessentially British but now Berlin-based quintet has just released a double disc collection, Top Of The Pops (The End Records). The 39 songs included were chosen by the five members of Art Brut. Argos mention this took place via email with much fighting.
“I was pushing for it to be a box set with twice as many songs,” Argos says.
Given that Art Brut only has four proper full-lengths to it credit, it’s hard to imagine what else the band might have included. The first disc of the collection includes the band’s most well known songs across its four records, in chronological order (starting off, fittingly enough, with “Formed A Band”) and two new songs, “Arizona Bay,” about being in an earthquake, and “We Make Pop Music,” which of course, is, once again, about what Art Brut does, although the band may never find itself sitting at the top of the actual “pop” charts.
“When I like a band I like to hear everything by them. I really like the other versions of the songs. You can hear me making up the words to “Formed A Band” and “Modern Art” in the versions on the bonus disc,” Argos says while explaining the song section. “To me it sounds more sincere and honest.”
In true punk rock (or classic rock?) fashion, he goes on to explain how his autobiographical lyrics can be updated.
“We don’t just play our songs like they are on the record like some boring indie band. Our songs can be very different live”Argos says.
He calls the live versions of the songs “especially important,” singling out his salute to modern art in particular.
“’Modern Art’ is a 10-minute song now. If we were recording it for an album today, it would be 10 minutes long, I just hadn’t written the extra verses in time for our debut,” Argos says. “I wish I could do 40-minute long version of ‘Modern Art’ and release it as a live album.”
Another bonus with the second disc is the three and a half covers included.
“I’ve always thought our song ‘Emily Kane’ was a bit like ‘The Catch,’” Argos says of The Cure cover included. “Well, a combination of ‘Catch’ and ‘Louise’ by the Human League, so it made sense to do that cover for me.”
How Art Brut came to record a cover of a song by We Are Scientists and mash it up with Lynyrd Skynyrd is a more interesting story. “The Great Escape” was recorded for a tour with We Are Scientists in 2007. It was supposed to be Art Brut’s side of a split 7” on which the band’s tour mates covered “Bang Bang Rock And Roll.” However, it never came out due to a delay in publishing clearance. Argos remembers recording “Free Bird” fondly.
“When we were recording it our record label at the time came in to see what we were up to, and asked, ‘Is that ‘Free Bird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd?” Argos says. “We nodded enthusiastically, ‘Yes! Note for note!’ with big grins on our faces. They must have known how hard it would be to get publishing clearance for both songs as a ‘mash up’ and have thought we were fucking idiots. They left the room shaking their heads.”
Only now, over five years later, can the truth (and guitar solo!) be heard, as part of Top Of The Pops.
Now that Art Brut is “officially” in the pantheon of “classic rock bands,” what’s next?
“I’ve been jokingly saying a Bob Dylan tribute album in response to this question for so long now. I genuinely want a Bob Dylan tribute album to happen,” Argos says.
“A Bob Dylan tribute album. I want to reclaim him for the punks. He was a punk rock motherfucker.”
Argos says that if he answers the “what’s next” question this way enough times, Art Brut will be forced to record a Bob Dylan tribute album. Yes, he really did say “Bob Dylan tribute album” three times, almost as if he’s uttering an incantation.
Art Brut-Top of the Pops Tracklisting:
- “Formed a Band”
- “My Little Brother”
- “Emily Kane”
- “Modern Art”
- “Good Weekend”
- “Direct Hit”
- “Nag Nag Nag Nag”
- “St Pauli”
- “Pump Up The Volume”
- “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake”
- “Alcoholics Unanimous”
- “Summer Job”
- “Demons Out!”
- “Axl Rose”
- “Sexy Sometimes”
- “Lost Weekend”
- “Arizona Bay” (new song)
- “We Make Pop Music” (new song)
- “Formed a Band” (early Keith Top of the Pops version)
- “Bad Weekend” (early Keith Top of the Pops version)
- “These Animal Menswear” (B-side)
- “Modern Art” (early Keith Top of the Pops version)
- “Maternity Ward” (B-side)
- “Blame It on the Trains” (produced by Russell Senior)
- “Post Soothing Out” (produced by Russell Senior)
- “St Pauli” (produced by Russell Senior)
- “About Time” (B-side)
- ‘Ignorance Is Bliss” (B-side)
- “Catch” (the Cure cover)
- “Modern Art” (recorded for Berlin Live)
- “Just Desserts” (alt. version of B-Side to “Alcoholics Unanimous”)
- “Moved to L.A.” (Art Brut vs. Satan iTunes exclusive)
- “Weird Science” (B-side)
- “Positively 5th Street” (B-side)
- “Unprofessional Wrestling” (download only)
- “The Great Escape” (We Are Scientists/Lynyrd Skynyrd cover)
- “Her Majesty” (Beatles cover, arranged by Black Francis)
- “Post Soothing Out” (recorded for Berlin Live)