By Trevor Hill
A quick Wikipedia search describes art brut as "creation beyond the realm of the institutionalized mainstream," beyond the French galleries where Art Brut are moved to rock out five feet from a Matisse. Whatever abstract inspiration, Bang Bang Rock & Roll is 1977 art-punk complemented with simple, plaintive, almost-spoken lyrics about everyman Eddie Argos' new band, old girlfriend, and an important message for the kids: Stay off the Crack.
The album opener tells the band's story musically and lyrically, making clear their ambitions of ubiquitous singles powerful enough to bring world peace. "Formed a Band," fittingly the first song Art Brut wrote, lays the groundwork for the rest of their catalogue with Argos explaining, "Yes this is my singing voice. It's not irony, and it's not Rock & Roll." At first this seems a parody of Talking Heads-style Rock & Roll-as-art clichés, but it's too cleverly coated in a thick gloss of social criticism, sarcasm, and irony to mock. Not to mention every track is pure licks.
Their meta-lyrical songwriting process carries throughout. "Emily Kane" aspires to get schoolchildren singing the real name of Argos' first love, recalling the last time he saw her to the very second. On the title track, Argos calls for "No more songs about sex and drugs and rock & roll," a hilarious joke when paired with the chorus "I can't stand the sound of the Velvet Underground" because most of his songs are about these topics, while their chops are reminiscent of Loaded-era VU.
Argos' half-serious vocal is pure fun, full of oscillations over angular guitars, with quick nods to classic Rock & Roll lines. "Sunshine on a rainy day" inspires him to move to L.A., where he plans to ride a Harley Davidson topless and drink Hennessey with Morrissey. Seldom does a punk record keep me thinking between listens, but such genuine emotion and real situations are scarce in modern music. Laughably high hopes and delusions of grandeur keep me smiling with the band but never laughing at them, for they have made legitimate outsider art from Rock & Roll.
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