Seven years since their last record, Art Brut release their fifth album. What have they been doing in the meantime? Well, two longstanding members, Mikey Breyer and Jasper Future, have left the band, and have been replaced by Toby Macfarlaine and Charlie Layton on guitar and drums. Meanwhile, frontman Eddie Argos moved to Berlin, had a child, spent some time painting and writing, and had a bout of peritonitis which apparently almost killed him. Sufficient material for a new album, then.
As important as Art Brut’s recent biography is the fact that music seems to frame Argos’ life. Of course, music helps us all to make sense of our lives at times. It provides reference points and shows us that we’re not alone in our experiences; the communal experience of music can apply not only to gigs but also to recorded sound. But the glut of references to other musicians and records that can be heard in Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out show that for Eddie Argos, literally everything is either related to or expressed in music.
Opening track Hooray! introduces this as a break-up album of sorts. But Argos sings, “There’ll be no Rumours or Blood on the Tracks”: this might be a break-up album, but as the upbeat pop-punk power-chords and the horn fanfares also attest, it’s not that kind of break-up album. And in Your Enemies Are My Enemies Too he describes how “I’m gonna grow old like Robyn Hitchcock”.
There’s also an ongoing obsession with hit pop songs and the charts that’s been there since Art Brut’s 2005 debut album, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, manifest here in She Kissed Me (And It Felt Like a Hit). All of this works because the musical reference points in the lyrics aren’t exclusive, hipsterish or elitist: Kultfigur parodies that alternative with lines like, “It’s not about making the audience bigger”, but is also self-parodying. The line “We’ve got a lead singer / Doesn’t really sing,” recalls the lyric from their first ever single, Formed A Band: “Yes, this is my singing voice, it’s not irony.”
The strongest track here is Veronica Falls, which riffs on that band’s single Waiting For Something To Happen. How did this song come about, one wonders? Did Argos come up with a song that included the chorus line “Waiting for something to happen”, only to remember that Veronica Falls had already released such a song, and decide to reference them in order to get around that potentially awkward fact? Or was the Veronica Falls song his starting point. Whatever its genesis, the song is endearingly bold both in its intertextual playfulness and in the striking confession that comes right at the end: “It’s a song about not cheating on your girlfriend when you wish that you had.”
There are some less endearing moments, such as the frequent references to life in Berlin. To be fair, this is probably just Argos writing about his recent experiences, but song titles in German and lines like “Warschauer Straße and the rising sun” feel a bit trendier-than-thou. On the other hand, the upbeat, joyful music and optimistic lyrics feel entirely inclusive and welcoming: the album might include a song called Too Clever, but Art Brut aren’t mucking about with anything too clever here.
The awkwardness of Art Brut’s earlier albums was oddly charming, but so too is this version of Eddie Argos who seems much more comfortably in his own skin. What’s even more pleasing is that he appears to have gained that self-confidence without really changing very much at all. The last three Art Brut albums gradually moved away from the energy and enthusiasm of Bang Bang Rock & Roll, but with Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out they sound like a band having more fun than ever before. All three of those exclamation marks are entirely justified.