November 14, 2009
Last night, I accompanied a few members of BQT team Jefferson Davis Starship to Brooklyn Bowl, an impressive new hybrid bowling alley–music venue–restaurant in Williamsburg (and future site of a Big Quiz Thing event? Worth considering and perhaps pursuing). We were there for the gourmet French-bread pizza, of course, but mainly to see Art Brut in concert. If you're not familiar, Art Brut is a fun and unique British band; they perform lighthearted but guitar-heaving songs about adolescent topics like comic books, hooking up with girls, and—in a brilliant example of self-reference—forming a rock band. Their shtick can get old seven or eight tracks into an album, but they hit a rich vein of old-fashioned rock & roll fun far more often than most modern acts.
I first heard "Emily Kane" in 2005; it was the third single from the band's appropriately titled debut album, Bang Bang Rock & Roll. Frontman Eddie Argos—it's not really accurate to call him a singer—rambles through the story of his teenage girlfriend, named, of course, Emily Kane, with wide-eyed longing ("If memory serves, we're still on a break") and hilarious desperation ("I've not seen her in ten years…nine months…three weeks…four days…six hours…13 minutes…five seconds"). Art Brut's trademark meta-playfulness is in effect: "I hope this song finds you fame/I want schoolkids on buses singing your name."
Argo's offhanded, speak-sing style recalls the Fall, but with less arty pretension, and the whimsical nature of the whole thing puts me in mind of Jonathan Richman, but with a good deal more rock muscle; the band can really play, and they clearly have so much fun with it. But what really gets me about the song is its specificity, and believability: You have absolutely no doubt that there actually was a teenage girlfriend named Emily Kane, that he still pines after her a decade later, and that he fantasizes about how she'll react to the song. (How did she? I can't find an account online; every time I see the band in concert, some version of the tale is told, but Argos's thick accent and the band's characteristic noise haven't let me hear it very well.)
If you like this, take a listen to Art Brut's most recent album, Art Brut vs. Satan (another very indicative title), produced by the great Frank Black. Music is fun, my friends
More of NT's greatest hits: "Born to Run," "Shake Some Action," "Chips Ahoy!," "Radio, Radio," "Could You Be the One?," "Summer in the City," "Teenage Kicks," "Strawberry Fields Forever, " "Tunnel of Love," "I Get Around," "Local Girls," "Don't Let's Start," "Suffragette City," "See-Saw," "My Name Is Jonas," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Reelin' in the Years," "Objects of My Affection" and "Crimson and Clover," "OK Apartment" and "Just What I Needed"