For a band largely snubbed in the mid-2000s when they could’ve easily been a smarter, funnier alternative to many a faceless indie-pop band, Art Brut’s career seems to have been spent vehemently reiterating how big they could’ve been. Even nowadays when this sort of quirky, off-kilter music is very much back in fashion in alt-rock circles, Art Brut feel deeply rooted in something a fair bit older that’s left less of a trace in 2018. In some ways, it’s been something of a blessing – they’ve earned something of a cult status within indie because of it – but it’s frequently been a polarising sound at the same time, with an incredibly basic instrumental setup that can definitely hark back to the dark times of landfill-indie’s domination a bit too readily, and Eddie Argos’ sprechgesang vocals that lack a good deal of tact or nuance. Of course, it’s hardly as though Art Brut are doing this for anyone other than themselves at this point – there’s no other explanation for continuing with a style as unfashionable as this – and now, with a lineup reshuffle and Argos’ permanent relocation to Berlin, that self-sufficient method of progression is being revisited with Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!.
And just like the movement they share their name with, Art Brut have seemingly ensured this album is as scrappy and distanced of anything else as a manner of self-expression possible, though not without plenty of moments of charm and levity that show just how good an indie-pop band they can be. Even more than that, it’s an album that’s suitably representative of it onomatopoeic title, fizzing and popping in a way that’s become characteristic of this band in the past, but continues to bring an exuberance that’s all too welcome. At the forefront of this notion is Argos himself, and while there’s a slight sense of discombobulation at a vocalist in his late-thirties on a track like Schwartzfahrer, with a title that literally translates to “fare-dodger” that’s about jumping on a train without paying to go on a date, he’s got the energy and glint in his eye of a much younger man that works to his advantage. It’s not a guaranteed failsafe – there’s still something a bit iffy about the passive-aggressive addresses to an ex on I Hope You’re Very Happy Together or recollections of the morning after a one-night stand on Awkard Breakfast – but like basically everything that Art Brut do, there’s so much youthful zeal that it’s hard to dislike too much. Particularly with Argos being as straight as he is in his delivery, it only feels appropriate that it translates to the mundanities that fill the writing, and how they’re viewed with such endearing charm. There’s something so endearing about comparing being so madly in love to having the song of the summer on She Kissed Me (And It Felt Like A Hit), or a relationship that’s stalled out to the short-lived indie-pop band Veronica Falls on the titular track, and with the assertions of Argos improving his life after a bout of serious peritonitis on Hospital! and just looking for a way to unwind and enjoy himself on the title track, it’s easy to see the simplicity as a much-deserved celebration of everything that’s got him to where he is now.
That’s also reflected in the execution of these songs as well, where even on some of the more negative tracks here (provided there actually is anything that could be deemed overtly negative), there’s a sense of glee and vibrancy that this brand of indie-pop always does so well. Crucially, the “pop” side remains just as important as the “indie”, and while tracks like She Kissed Me (And It Felt Like It Hit) can feel a bit cluttered when additional horns are thrown in to an already loaded mix, it’s hard to deny that Art Brut know their way around some catchy-as-hell melodies, and with Argos’ lackadaisical boyishness serving as the buoying factor, there genuinely is a lot to like purely about how these tracks sound. It’s a smart move to phase out what could be seen as a conventional hook in favour of a similarly spoken style, but with the bright, breezy guitar work on Too Clever or the sparkly horn arrangements that let Hooray! kick the album off in as joyous fashion as possible, there’s such an unavoidable, almost reckless sense of exuberance that, like everything about this album, is totally likable. Even on some of the more (relatively) downbeat tracks like Good Morning Berlin or Awkward Breakfast, that energy remains, but repurposed for something a bit darker and broodier, but still perfectly fits with the flow and the tone of the album.
And at the end of the day, it’s hard to begrudge an album like this from being Argos’ simple celebration of his life. The lack of depth can veer ever-so-slightly towards throwaway territory on more instances than would be preferable, but really, for an album like this that’s designed as little more than feelgood music, criticisms like that aren’t particularly prescient to begin with. Rather, taking Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! for what it is – namely a ludicrously infectious and fun ride that’s as deliriously charming and excitable as it gets – is the best way to go about things, and while it mightn’t be perfect, Art Brut have made one supremely entertaining listen all the same.
For fans of: Los Campesinos!, The Cribs, The Futureheads
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!’ by Art Brut is out now on Alcopop! Records.