"Formed a Band" was such a brilliant first single, and summed up Art Brut's aesthetic so perfectly, that there almost seemed to be no need for more songs from them. Driven by a jagged, ragged guitar riff, it sounded like it was thrown together in ten minutes tops, and had lots of great, quotable lyrics ("I wanna be the boy -- the man -- who writes the song/That makes Israel and Palestine get along"), which were held together and topped off by Alfred Molina look-alike Eddie Argos' speak-singing -- which he informed his listeners wasn't irony, and wasn't rock & roll. Actually, it's both, and there's a lot more of both on Bang Bang Rock & Roll, an album whose title kills and celebrates rock & roll at the same time. "Formed a Band," which appears here in a slightly more polished version than the original Rough Trade single, is still Art Brut's calling card, but the album has plenty of nearly-as-great songs to choose from. Chief among them is "Emily Kane," a plea Argos wrote to find his lost teenage sweetheart. He doesn't just pine for her, though, he wants "school kids on buses singing [her] name." Truly brilliant in its sweet simplicity -- especially on the breakdown, where he lists, to the second, exactly how long it's been since he's seen Emily -- it's an incredibly vivid distillation of how large your first love looms in your memory. On the album's title track, Art Brut return to "Formed a Band"-style, tongue-in-cheek meta-punk: while Argos snarls, "I can't stand the sound of the Velvet Underground!" the backing vocals chime in "White light! White heat!" and a John Cale-like violin screeches in the background. While all this irony could be suffocating, there's a pure, unadulterated joy underneath most of Art Brut's best songs that prevents their witty stance from becoming too clever-clever; the way Argos roars, "I've seen her naked twice!" about his new girlfriend on "Good Weekend" feels entirely genuine. Indeed, a lot of Art Brut's appeal lies in Argos' way with storytelling, whether he's singing about impotence ("Rusted Guns of Milan"), drinking Hennessey with Morrissey ("Moving to L.A."), or indulging his fascinations with Top of the Pops or Italy ("18,000 Lira"). Though it runs out of steam slightly (at least in comparison to the pop art brilliance of the band's best songs) on its second half, Bang Bang Rock & Roll is a terrific debut, and Art Brut are smart, catchy, and fun -- everything you could want in a band, even if they do sound like they formed ten minutes ago.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares