Eddie Argos has poured out his heart across three Art Brut albums that found him singing about his love of DC Comics, lost girlfriends, mix-tapes, and the many other topics that stir his passions. Each album stuck to the same gloriously unpolished sound, so it seems ill-advised for Argos to break away for a high-concept side project. Or it would if the earnest cleverness familiar from his day job didn’t move so effortlessly into the low-budget pop sounds of Everybody Was In The French Resistance… Now!, a collaboration with The Blood Arm’s Dylan Valdés.
The high concept: Fixin’ The Charts, Volume One collects 12 response songs to familiar hits from the recent and not-so-recent past. Musically, Argos and Valdés’ answers bear little resemblance to their sources; instead, they offer mirror-image lyrical inversions. The self-assurance of “My Way” becomes the consensus-taking thoughtfulness of “My Way (It’s Not Always The Best Way).” (“Hello, It’s Eddie. There’s some stuff I need help with / Can you advise me? I’ve made a list.”) Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” becomes “G.I.R.L.F.R.E.N. (You Know I’ve Got A),” a concerned kiss-off to the stalker-ish persistence of a would-be lover.
The joke wears thin on a few of the tracks; did anyone really need to hear the other side of the story behind The Archies’ “Waldo P. Emerson Jones”? But much of Fixin’ The Charts would work even without its central gimmick. Valdés supplies credible hooks and winning girl-group harmonies, and Argos’ lyrics never separate wit from emotion, as on “Billie’s Genes,” a dressing-down of an absent father as propulsive and unsettling in its own way as the Michael Jackson classic that inspired it. “My mother always told me I was a surprise and not a mistake,” Argos barks, heart on his sleeve as always. Even in these unfamiliar surroundings, he knows the value of a happy accident.