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Art Brut – "Top Of The Pops"

“Britain is the only country in the world where being ‘too clever by half’ is an insult,” the self-important oaf AA Gill once remarked. In Art Brut’s case, it may have cost them the chance to become proper rock royalty. Yes, they could have played it safe all along and garnished their infectious guitar-driven tunes with the usual dross about – yawn – being a rebel, feeling alienated, that sort of thing. Instead, singer Eddie Argos chose to assume an uber-naive persona, his own in fact, and sing his heart out about his record collection, his sweet tooth and his bedroom gaucheness. So sharp are Argos’s lyrics (“Wet trousers in the washing machine / But I’d rather be damp than seen wearing jeans”, “Sorry if my accent’s flawed / I learnt my German from a 7-inch record”) that the band’s music can, on occasion, come across as an afterthought.

Yet, as this compilation demonstrates, more often than not Art Brut get both words and melody spot on, resulting in absolute gems of three-minute pop perfection (Direct Hit, Nag Nag Nag Nag, Bad Weekend). The arrival of Black Francis as a producer in 2009 saw the band inch even closer to the not-completely-ironic ‘classic rock’ status that Argos has always aspired to. While not every song on the rarities-only second disc is indispensable, and some of Art Brut’s very best numbers (Mysterious Bruises, Am I Normal?) have missed the cut, Top Of The Pops nonetheless showcases a band who, through good old-fashioned killer riffs and heart-on-sleeve storytelling, have become one of Britain’s finest acts. Now that’s clever.

(The End Records)