St Eddie of Argos is often held up as a sort of junior Jarvis. But is he? Jarvis was highly ambitious, positively craven when it came to fame. It’s Jonathan Richman’s framed picture that adorns the hall of Top Of The Pops Towers, Art Brut’s Camden home, and Eddie’s heroes are from the cultish indie underworld: Jeffrey Lewis, The Mountain Goats, Hefner. What does he actually want from life? By track two, ‘Art Brut Vs Satan’ has an answer: ‘DC Comics And Chocolate Milkshake’.
Following their departure from EMI after ‘It’s A Bit Complicated’ failed the uncomplicated imperative to shift units, it feels like Team Brut have retreated back towards that indie underworld. Made in 12 days with Black Francis at the controls, ‘…Satan’ is an album that says, ‘If you thought we were slackers before, well, we were only just reclining then’. It relies on much the same pointy art-riffs, but with more sawdust in the gearbox. ‘Slap Dash For No Cash’ offers the theory in handy manifesto format.
Having outed himself as a comic-book fan, he’s more than happy to wax philosophical on his other twin passions: his record collection and everyone else’s. That means a reprise for his practice of naming songs after other songs, as in ‘Twist And Shout’ or ‘The Passenger’. ‘The Replacements’ is about… liking The Replacements. Or more precisely, about his alarm at only finding out about them so late in life;
a subtle, wonderfully Argosian distinction. Within the torrent of clever perspective, drollities and easy charm, though, it’s the songs-about-songs that feel most like wasted opportunities. However entertaining they are – and ‘Demons Out!’ is hugely entertaining – they’ve begun to feel like comfort food.
It’s when he’s striking a balance between hymning his kidult fancies and adopting a more Jarvis-like confessional approach that the reasons we first fell in love snap back into focus. ‘Am I Human?’ is among his sharpest – teen Eddie narrating the list of girls he never plucked up the nerve to talk to. The image of a 14-year-old Argos cowering from the object of his affections behind the magazine racks in WH Smith: truly, this is the indiest notion of all time.
Art Brut haven’t made the record that’ll reverse their gradual slide back towards cult. But they have at least made the one that’ll make the cult even more fervent.