It's A Bit Complicated
First thought about the new Art Brut? It's fine. Definitely no Bang Bang Rock And Roll, but what could be? Still, something vital is missing. They sound controlled, more conscious of what the outcome should be like. Less loose, more serious. In short, they seem to be lacking their mojo.
My theory as to why that is revolves around Bang Bang's status as a concept album: wouldn't it be hilarious if we formed a band and did it like this? Every song fits the "Wouldn't It Be Hilarious If _____" format. "Formed A Band," "Rusted Guns Of Milan," "Fight," "Moving To LA"... they're all tongue-in-cheek (and vaguely anarchical) takes on clichéd subjects, but they also happen to work as songs. You get the sense that the whole concept of the band is, on some level, a ridiculously elaborate joke.
Complicated, meanwhile, is a proper album with proper pop songs ("Post Soothing Out," "Direct Hit," "Nag Nag Nag Nag"). It's good. It's not, like, a mess or anything, and it certainly doesn't invalidate Bang Bang in any way. But it doesn't really stand for anything or represent anything on its own. The cheek is still there, but the joke seems to be gone.
It seems obvious in retrospect that this would happen. It's not the first time in the history of western civilization that a sophomore album has fallen short. There's no way they could have reproduced Bang Bang's ingenious subtext. They'd have to do a send up of a band going off the reservation and "experimenting" on their inevitable sophomore let-down album; talk about tall orders. With the odds stacked against them like that, a step backwards was inevitable.
Fortunately for us, Art Brut is already well ahead of the curve as it is, so a step back is still pretty awesome. Our job now is to adjust to the new world order. No more manifesto-like declarations? No more laugh-out-loud funny Italian bank capers? No ballads about erectile dysfunction? Fine by me. I'll settle for the slacker exhortations, knowing full well that the catchy tunes will come alive in concert, and we'll still walk out of the show with ear-to-ear smiles on our faces. At any rate, no hard feelings.
The point of comparison that comes to mind, in terms of forgiveness, is One Way Ticket To Hell And Back by The Darkness. I worked hard to foster an appreciation for that album, despite knowing at first listen that it fell short of Permission to Land. It doesn't have anywhere near the same energy and verve as its predecessor. But I stuck by it, because I liked the band and what it stood for. When the same situation came up with Kasabian and its tepid album Empire, I dismissed them. Fortunately, Art Brut falls into the former category. They've earned a few years of water-treading from me.