ART BRUT at the Horseshoe (368 Queen West), Saturday (April 1), 9 pm. $12. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Eddie Argos can accept his limitations when it comes to music.
The self-conscious singer of London's Art Brut claims he's unskilled in musical composition and that he chose vocal duties because of his lack of options, not to seek the spotlight. His self-deprecating story is well documented in the lyrics of the first single from their debut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, appropriately titled Formed A Band.
On the raw punk anthem, Argos triumphantly shouts, "Formed a band / We formed a band" and defiantly speak-sings, "Yes this is my singing voice / it's not irony."
You might assume the soft-spoken former social-work counsellor is cleverly taking the piss, but in conversation he sounds convinced of his ineptitude.
"I tried every instrument but couldn't really play them, because I'm not very talented musically," says a jittery Argos on the phone from San Francisco. "I tried guitar, bass and xylophone - I tried everything but couldn't do it. Then, one day, I'm listening to the radio, hearing Damon Albarn and Lou Reed and thinking, 'They can't really sing.' I've got a voice; I can say things and shout things, so I'll just be the singer.
"When we were recording demos, on the first take the engineers wanted to know if I was okay. 'Jesus Christ, you all right, mate?' they asked. I said, 'Yeah, I'm fine. That's just my singing voice. '"
For all Argos's self-effacement, he does possess talent; it's just not for harmonic grace. He's among the wittiest of storytellers in music today - sort of a British Slick Rick, but with paler skin and lager-fed jowls.
Argos has a knack for weaving intelligently humorous tales whose subjects range from an annoying sibling who discovers rock, in My Little Brother (Argos warns him against Pete Doherty), to the unbridled sexual enthusiasm that goes with acquiring a new girlfriend, in Good Weekend.
However, one problem with using real characters in your self-referential stories, such as the unrequited-love lament in Emily Kane, is that life can sometimes imitate Art Brut.
"We're friends now, but I've realized I didn't really love her," says a dejected Argos about his ex-girlfriend, Emily, about whom he passionately reminisces in the song. "A friend of friend gave me her number, so I gave her a text saying, 'Look, heads up, I've written a song about you.' After we talked, I realized I loved us, not her - it was the idea of being in love with her. Besides, she's got a man now. It would be weird."
Argos is over Emily, but his ultimate desire to play England's famed Top Of The Pops broadcast remains technically unfulfilled. His band did play Germany's version, but as Argos insists, "It doesn't really count until my mum sees it on the telly."
It's an obsession Argos traces back to the impetus for AB's creation. When he approached guitarist Chris Chinchilla (now replaced by Jasper Future) at a party in 2003, Argos demanded they form a band so he could cement his dream of playing TOTP, while promising Chinchilla a suitable outlet to meet babes.
Within six months, they'd recruited Bournemouth buddy Ian Catskilkin (lead guitar); krautrocker Freddy Feedback (bass) and drummer Mikey B. and released a slew of hastily made CD-Rs, cutely called Brutlegs. Label Rough Trade properly released a few well-received singles, and eventually Bang Bang dropped in Britain last May. Frustratingly for Brut, a North American release isn't scheduled till May.
"I can't wait to get this one out and be done with it so we can make the next one," moans Argos. "I'm looking forward to it more than anything. I can't wait. I'm already writing loads. It's going to be better than the last one. It might be heavier, maybe more like Mclusky, cuz I love them.
"But I'm not in charge of the music, cuz I can't play anything."