Everybody Was in the French Resistance...Now!

Fixin' the Charts, Vol. 1

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Right from the get-go --with the brilliantly meta "Formed a Band" -- Art Brut's Eddie Argos has been obsessed with (and excelled about) writing songs about pop music, a preoccupation that's only become more pronounced with each of the group's albums. So it's hardly surprising that his first major venture outside of the band is a conceptual project of pop songs inspired by other pop songs. Specifically, Fixin' the Charts is an album of answer songs -- a long-standing pop institution (from "Roll with Me Henry" to "Roxanne's Revenge" to "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken"), but one that's probably never been indulged to quite this extent. Here, we get to hear the other side of some familiar pop stories: a response to Martha & the Vandellas' "Jimmy Mack," the perspective of Michael Jackson's long-lost bastard son (q.v. "Billie Jean"), and a rebuttal to that would-be boy-stealer Avril Lavigne, which flips "Girlfriend"'s bratty cheerleader breakdown on its head ("he won't stray/so go away") and throws in a fitting, side-long allusion to Argos touchstone Jonathan Richman. Sometimes, the "answer" is a bit more oblique: "Creeque Allies," whose refrain provides the rather unwieldy name of this outfit, is quite literally a history of the WWII French Resistance movement, with no apparent connection to the Mamas and the Papas' "Creeque Alley," aside from a vague lyrical cadence and a rambling narrative style. In general, though, the re-imaginings are both witty and spot-on, down to anachronistic but entirely in-character details like the lovers of "Scarborough Fair" stalking each other on Facebook, and the Crystals' "Rebel" "handing out fliers for his electro night." Though they're obviously comical in intent -- if you thought Art Brut were a novelty act, there's certainly no escaping it here -- these aren't precisely parodies. For one thing, Argos and his partner-in-crime Dyan Valdés don't simply reuse the tunes of the songs they're skewering (admittedly, Argos can rarely be accused of using "tunes" at all); but instead create new musical settings that vaguely approximate the feel of the originals, sometimes to rather strange effect. Indeed, the album's skewed musical decisions can be just as much fun as the lyrical foolery: "Hey! It's Jimmy Mack" is a pleasantly amateurish pastiche not of Motown, but Phil Spector-style girl groups, complete with sleigh bells, handclaps, and swirling strings, and "Billie's Genes" warps Jacko's nimble pop into a kind of lumpen quasi-funk with some spirited synth trumpets, while "Superglue," a fairly direct counter proposal to Elastica's "Vaseline," glosses the original's punkish snarl into something that sounds closer to Stereolab (and maybe just a touch like "She Don't Use Jelly"), and the self-explanatory Dylan-response "Think Twice (It's Not Alright") is set to hesitant harpsichord and Valdés' nicely harmonized vocals. Still, Fixin' the Charts really comes down to the jokes and the concept -- how much you appreciate it will depend on how much the idea appeals to you in the first place, and how well you can tolerate Argos' sung/spoken/ranted vocal approach, but it's definitely good for at least a chuckle.

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