Art Brut is known for its clever, literal lyrics, and on its fourth album, Brilliant! Tragic!, the British garage-punk band lives up to that reputation right from the title. The group, led by lead singer Eddie Argos, wastes no time in making its mission clear: Find the tragic in what is brilliant and the brilliance in what is tragic.
“I’m still nervous on the way to the bar/So we rehearse the set in the back of the car,” states Argos on the opening track, “Clever Clever Jazz,” his voice giving in to the steady rhythm of Mikey Breyer’s drumming. The irony of this first lyric is evident long before the song comes to a close because Art Brut exhibits nothing but confidence and self-assuredness, even as the lyrics tell stories of jealousy (“Bad Comedian”) and optimistic melancholy (“Ice Hockey”). Argos’ mocking tone guides the music’s personality, as it has on previous albums, but this time he finally earns his title of lead singer by whispering and screaming and, yes, singing, rather than speaking.
Nerves are the last thing one thinks of while listening, and Art Brut never lets you forget that it is in on the secret of this contradiction. More importantly, the band is in charge of it. In “Sexy Sometimes,” the guitar riffs almost become a part of the lyrics and add some swagger to the story, helping to turn the self-deprecating line, “That would be a triumph with a voice like mine,” into, “I can make it happen/With a voice like mine.”
No track better epitomizes the fuck-you-but-I-really-do-care attitude of Art Brut than “Axl Rose,” a love letter of sorts to the Guns N’ Roses frontman. While the opening two seconds feature only Breyer’s drumming and barely hint at the anger that is approaching, it quickly becomes clear that this is the track that was designed to make the listener scream along with Argos as he shamelessly declares, “This world is fucked/And you’re an idiot.” Art Brut may be insulting you and everyone else, with the exception of Axl Rose, of course, but it does so with such ease that it’s hard not to nod your head in agreement. The lyrics are undoubtedly tragic, but they are what give Brilliant! Tragic! its brilliance.