/ Direct hit, Labels/EMI/Mute, 2007
‘It’s the sort of thing I don’t want you to see
So I hide it on side B
Everybody has a sad side
I’ve hidden mine on the B side
It’s only fair before you decide –
that you should have a listen to my B side’
Ah, that little-practiced form, the concept B side.
Like a desert from a grain of sand, a garden from a flower, is it possible to infer the rest of Art Brut’s output from this one conceit? Work out that they must necessarily have another B side entitled ‘I found this song in the road’, or that inevitably their debut A side for the archetypal indie label was called ‘Formed a band’ and that it was destined to make it to number 31 in the final, posthumous Festive Fifty? That they would move sideways to a label with an appropriate degree of mild (read indie) notoriety for their first LP Bang bang rock & roll – and that as with so many before they would therefore be playing with guns at their heads? And might we even work out that the singer would have to be called something as artfully proletarian as Eddie Argos, and that he would, three or four years after forming his own band, collaborate with Black Box Recorder under the obvious portmanteau name of the Black Arts to record a Yuletide single called ‘Christmas number one’? And who was surprised when – its archness set against its ambition – that single fell seriously wide of its indicated mark?
Could we further infer that during the time they were operational their B side would be covered on a blog dedicated to B sides by a writer who can’t decide whether to grimace or smile on discovering that a song on their first album goes:
‘My little brother just discovered rock and roll
There’s a noise in his head and he’s out of control
He no longer listens to A sides
He made me a tape of bootlegs and B sides’
I think we could.
Eddie Argos must have been the kid who was too smart for school. If his approach has a fault it’s that it’s perhaps too frequently Peel-lite conceptually; lyrically and sonically a throwback to so many obscure slices of vinyl that saw the light of day only by being played late at night by Peel. I’m thinking Yeah Yeah Noh, I, Ludicrous, Bob, Half-Man Half Biscuit, Colorblind James Experience, and Camper Van Beethoven; the beat of ‘Take the skinheads bowling’ could easily have informed that of ‘I want to be double A-sided’. But there’s also sincerity and a youthful excitement in Art Brut’s grooves that has more to do with Buzzcocks, and a refined sense of the righteous irony whose parameters were first tested by Mark E. Smith.
Art Brut is a group politicised enough to pitch their web tent in the org.uk rather than co.uk domain. And yet this single was not released by a 21st century equivalent of In Tape or Probe Plus but by EMI, to whom Mute was sold in 2002 (in any case a considerably different label to the one set up by Daniel Miller in 1978 when he self-released his own concept single as the Normal, ‘T.V.O.D.’ / ‘Warm leatherette’). Despite the properly independent edginess of Eddie’s worldview, that Art Brut are issued into the mainstream by the currently downsizing ex-purveyor of military hardware proves how generically middle of the road the indie genre is in the 21st century, and the severance of any meaningful connection to Mute’s origins.
The cuteness of Art Brut’s concept is also undermined a little by the A side. Although it’s titled ‘Direct hit’ – no doubt informing the choice or even the very writing of its B side – it doesn’t have the melodic vim and vigour of its predecessor ‘Nag nag nag’, so that what we effectively end up with is no ‘Day tripper’ / ‘We can work it out’, ‘Hip Hip’ / ‘Flowers’, or ‘Sensitive’ / ‘When morning comes to town’, no ‘All out to get you’ /’ Drowning’, ‘The flood’ / ‘Disney boys’ or ‘Horrorshow’ / ‘Adult/ery’, no ‘Thank you (falettinme be mice elf agin)’ / ‘Everybody is a star’, ‘What goes up’ / ‘Five day morning’, or ‘Sunday’ / ‘Sporting life’, but a double B side. Oops.
And of a gently funny B side that wants but fails to be one half of a double A, we might ask a final question: why would you want to lose that humble, hidden cachet?
The grass is always greener, I guess.