Eddie Argos has made a career out of brashly getting things off his chest, using his playful indie-rock OCD to craft compelling tales for funny, clever English art-rock outfit Art Brut. Though the postmodern stream-of-consciousness of songs like “Formed A Band,” “Good Weekend,” and “Bad Weekend” seemed to suggest that Argos and friends had a limited shelf life when they released Bang Bang Rock & Roll in 2005, here they are with album four, continuing Argos’ unlikely run as a frontman, a run that also includes the side project Everybody Was In The French Resistance… Now!
Back with his second round of production for Art Brut, Black Francis lobbied for Argos to actually sing on Brilliant! Tragic!, though there’s still plenty of his trademark speaking and yelling. Either way, the focus once again falls squarely on the lyrics. Just as John Darnielle’s words are more memorable than The Mountain Goats’ music, the melodic packaging around Art Brut’s songs has never been as important as the yarns spun by the band’s leader. That said, the serviceably catchy yet unobtrusive indie-rock instrumentation on Brilliant! Tragic! is some of the finest the group has offered, starting with the first couple of songs, which explore charted territory: “Clever Clever Jazz” finds the protagonist forming a band that’s “working in a genre you don’t understand,” followed by a “Lost Weekend” featuring, among other things, intoxication and an embarrassing declaration of love.
Axl Rose provides another familiar face. First acknowledged on Bang Bang’s “Moving To L.A.,” Rose now has his own track, on which Argos notes that “When the world’s got you by the fucking throat / Who’d you want in your corner? / Axl Rose!” Elsewhere, Argos sings of schoolboy crushes over an epic guitar exercise in “Martin Kemp Welch Five A-Side Football Rules,” getting romantically replaced by a “Bad Comedian” who probably “signs his name in Comic Sans,” and fantasizing over the Clash-like jangle of “Sexy” about making background music played while couples drink wine. (“That would be a triumph with a voice like mine.”) But “Axl Rose” serves as the perfect litmus test to gauge listeners’ interest in Art Brut: Whether the opening line, “This world is fucked and you’re an idiot,” sounds like poignant poetry or puerile profanity should help determine who will consider the rest of the album to be brilliant and who will hear it only as tragic.