There’s a story that Eddie Argos once hired an Art Brut line-up (the band’s now comprised of different members) through an ad placed in the back pages of NME. Well, it was a different time. But Eddie Argos is still here, talking over bright indie-pop about anything that comes into his head. On ‘Formed A Band’, the group’s clattering, then-almost-epochal lead single, taken from 2005 debut album ‘Bang Bang Rock & Roll’, the frontman deadpanned: “Yes – this is my singing voice / It’s not irony; it’s not rock’n’roll / We’re just talking to the kids.”
All these years later, it’s not entirely clear who he is talking to. Seven years have passed since Art Brut’s coolly received last album ‘Brilliant! Tragic!’, in which time Argos has experienced health problems, moved to Berlin full-time and entered a new relationship. Though he’s been focused on writing and painting, here comes ‘Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!’, a cheap’n’cheerful collection that retreats from the expansion of the band’s sound that their last three albums attempted, instead settling for a modest recreation of the intimacy of ‘Bang Bang Rock & Roll’.
At its best, this results in ‘Veronica Falls’, a melancholic, acoustic-based track that references the indie band of the same name. It’s punctuated by cheery, simplistic guitar solos, as Argos expresses regret at not cheating on a partner with whom things later went sour: “This is a song about longing / Wishing I’d done wrong / And missed opportunities to be bad”. It’s a little bit naughty, perhaps more relatable that many of us would care to admit and, above all, likeable in its modest ambition. Expressed in a song that name-checks a little-remembered indie band, though, this modesty indicates a trait that makes an Art Brut album a niche concern in 2018.
Argos isn’t trying to write a song like ‘Formed A Band’, which championed the freedom of punk and the notion that anyone could appear on Top Of The Pops. He’s writing about his time in hospital (‘Hospital!), his new home (from ‘Good Morning Berlin’: “Hipsters with beards eating falafel / Wander these streets like herds of cattle”) and desire to remain relevant in his forties (the title track’s indie shuffle). Well, fine, but this navel-gazing offers us little reason to love his album. As he says on ‘Kultfigur’: “It’s not about making the audience bigger”.