The United Kingdom is of the unanimous opinion that Art Brut is uncool. Word’s still out, though, on whether or not this makes the band cool. Last January, the Guardian‘s David Peschek gushed that jocular frontman Eddie Argos and his crew of Wire-weaned faux-Fall three-chorders were “coolly uncool.” In those same pages, just months later, Caroline Sullivan countered that soon echoed phrase with the assertion that “There’s uncool . . . and there’s uncool,” implying that the band’s debut, Bang Bang Rock and Roll (Fierce Panda), was, in fact, the latter and that this was most certainly not cool. All of which was a roundabout way of asking: How does Argos measure up to Jarvis Cocker?
That’s certainly a less pressing question in the U.S., where the Pulp frontman never epitomized “coolly uncool” as he did at home. And though Yank ears can detect in Argos a canny (not un-)similarity (not mimicry) with (not of) Cocker’s brogue, Art Brut’s lyrics don’t so much flaunt geekery as flex candor. On the laddish “Fight,” Argos sings, “Some people like things left unspoken/I just want to get things out in the open”—far from the revolt of misshapen outcasts that Cocker threatened. And where Jarvis saw the master bedroom as a battlefield for class war, Argos has simpler needs and issues: On “Good Weekend,” a “brand new girlfriend” stokes his puppy lust (“I’ve seen her naked! Twice!”); on “Rusted Guns of Milan,” his love lies limp (“Don’t tell your friends!”).
As for social criticism, Argos relies on snap (and snappy) responses to a younger brother’s budding record collection and the NME. Resigned to irrelevance (“Popular culture no longer applies to me”) and bored with trendiness (“I can’t stand the sound of the Velvet Underground”), he might respond by “Moving to L.A.,” where he’ll swig Hennessey with Morrissey and buy new clothes with Axl Rose. A freewheeling sensibility and yet, “it’s not irony,” as Argos intones on his sharpest bit of rock crit “Formed a Band.” So sincere is his desire to bring peace to the Middle East with a song “more universal than ‘Happy Birthday,’ ” he implicitly big-ups not just DIY bootstrappiness but also the grandiosity of Oasis, of Coldplay . . . and of Pulp. Maybe Argos doesn’t necessarily count himself among the common people. But he for sure identifies with the ordinaries, and he knows what we deserve—hot sex, good jokes, and the ability to accept our own eccentricities.
Art Brut play Mercury Lounge November 10.