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Sunday, July 1, 2007

IT'S A BIT COMPLICATED

Art Brut

Ayear ago, Art Brut felt like a possible hip alternative to the hyped British buzz band Arctic Monkeys. Art Brut's snarky, side-splitting single "Formed a Band" was so incredibly stupid it was genius: "Formed a band! We formed a band!" vocalist Eddie Argos proclaimed as guitars pummeled. "Look at us! We formed a band!"

They're still in a band! But it's not as fun anymore. In fact, it's borderline grating on this second CD. It's a symptom of the group's brain-numbing blueprint, which is powered by Argos's relentless accent and repetitive vocal style. Still talking about broken love or mix tapes, not actually singing, Argos chants short, sorta catchy phrases over and over until, eventually, you feel like chucking your iPod at the nearest person with bad teeth.

One could argue that Art Brut has grown by adding production heft; the group injects melodic backing vocals and horns into "Late Sunday Evening." But Art Brut's most consistently engaging aspect is its inspired punk-rock guitar ideas, which resemble late-era Black Flag on songs such as "Pump Up the Volume" and "I Will Survive."

Downloaders should grab "Direct Hit," a fist-pumping, hot-rocking dance floor anthem. It's a great tune. After that, it's tough to find much about Art Brut to make you want to look at this band -- let alone listen -- for more than a few minutes at a time.

-- Michael Deeds

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Direct Hit," "Nag Nag Nag Nag"

AT MY AGE

Nick Lowe

If Paul McCartney had written "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" when he really was 64, rather than 24, it might have sounded something like Nick Lowe's "The Club." There's no oom-pah-pah to this tune, just a friendly gin-drinker's voice and a few melancholy words: "This club's not for the happy types / Got up in pinks and yellows / It's for all the lost and lonely brokenhearted fellows." By the end, a mariachi band wanders by the barstool in question, bleating horns as the singer "whoa-ohs" into the distance.

Throughout his first studio album in six years the 58-year-old singer-songwriter behind Elvis Costello's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and solo pub-rock classics like "Cruel to Be Kind" maintains the precise mood of "The Club." Sometimes he speeds up, as on Charlie Feathers's rockabilly gem "The Man in Love," which has the swinging, near-goofy feel of Lowe's underrated 1990 rock CD "Party of One." And sometimes he slows way, way down, as on "Love's Got a Lot to Answer For," which opens with just a few desolate piano notes, guitar chords and horns.

But Lowe never veers away from love songs, viewed through his unique lens of humor and regret. "Long Limbed Girl" shows a man rediscovering an old photo of a beautiful woman with her arms around him. The find leads to a series of simple but devastating questions: What happened after me? Did you find love eventually?

"In my mind, forever young," Lowe concludes, and he sings in that spirit for 33 minutes on "At My Age."

-- Steve Knopper

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Long Limbed Girl," "The Man i n Love," "Rome Wasn't Built i n a Day"

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