Art Brut — “Formed a Band”

Released: 3.29.04

Peak: Did not chart

Essential to the myth of rock and roll is a belief that anyone can do it. Still, as Robert Christgau once pointed out, that doesn’t mean just anyone can do it. (Streisand and Nixon, he stated, could not “sing rock.”) The DIY ethos, at best, battles encroaching passivity and generates an atmosphere of possibility. At worst, it encourages willful amateurism and know-nothing proletkult. (There’s a similar confusion when it comes to U.S. democracy–the idea, in both cases, is to increase the talent pool, to more broadly define “talent,” not just to let any dipshit run the EPA or form Wavves.)

“Formed a Band” bristles with this nascent possibility. The guitars bend prickly postpunk toward their minimalist ends as though to say that forming the Gang of Four was more revolutionary than anything Jon King actually sang. Yet for all his pride in the mere existence of Art Brut, frontman Eddie Argos doesn’t quite sign on to that sentiment. As with most quotable rock raconteurs, the printed lyric doesn’t do Argos full justice–the hook is in his delivery, in the nuance of what he insists is “not irony” and “not rocknroll,” but his singing voice, as he leapfrogs over DIY ideology with optimistic humor to express rock’s messianic impulse as well.

And there’s the kicker. Argos wants not just for Israel and Palestine to “get along,” but to be the man who writes the song–“more universal than ‘Happy Birthday’–that causes such rapport. Not for him Craig Finn’s modest “I got bored when I didn’t have a band/ So I started a band.” (Falsely modest, but still.) Much as Argos likes to mock the Bonos and Chris Martins of the world, he knows where they’re coming from. Maybe the secret to rock and roll is that anyone really can do it, but only if they’re not satisfied with being just anyone.

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