FUCK MARTHA and her Vandelas. While Jimmy Mack, her unfortunate sap of a boyfriend, was probably off dodging Viet Cong bullets in some Vietnamese jungle, Martha was telling the world about how she—despite knowing it's wrong—was going to take a trip to the boneyard with a new suitor. "Jimmy Mack," the 1967 Holland/Dozier/Holland song is just another example of the one-way street of pop music, where the artists always get the final word.
But what if there was a pair of brave souls unafraid to voice their concerns? A couple that fights the good fight, fearlessly correcting the myths forever engraved in our pop lexicon? Enter Everybody Was in the French Resistance... Now!, a group unafraid to right the wrongs of pop music.
"I believe every pop song is true. I remember hearing Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and thinking, 'She is such a bitch. She's singing to her poor boyfriend that she's going to cheat on him.'" Fueled by the emotional callousness of Martha Reeves, this is the explanation of why Eddie Argos (Art Brut) and his girlfriend Dyan Valdés (of underappreciated Los Angeles indie act the Blood Arm) decided to pen a response to the hit song. "I was getting really angry and then Dyan was like, 'Shut up, or you can write a song about it.' So we did that."
The first song written by Argos and Valdés, "Hey! It's Jimmy Mack" gives the mute protagonist a welcome voice after three decades of forced silence. Demonstrating a startling amount of restraint for a man whose namesake is now synonymous with cheated-upon boyfriends (on the revenge scale, Shellac's "Prayer to God" this is not), Jimmy Mack simply explains that while he believes "true love lasts long distance," he won't be returning to Martha anytime soon. Case closed.
This songwriting exercise for Argos and Valdés soon laid the path for Fixin' the Charts, Vol. 1, the debut offering from the cumbersomely titled Everybody Was in the French Resistance... Now! While Art Brut's jittery urgency orbits around the sharp wit of reluctant frontman Argos, French Resistance is a looser vehicle of simplistic call-and-response pop songs, armed with the singular goal of giving a voice to the silent characters whose fate is forever captured in song.
"Billie's Genes" follows the nameless bastard of Michael Jackson's teenage loins as he finally gets to confront his absentee father. It turns out that the kid was indeed his son. "It was hard growing up without a dad, but now I know it's you, I'm sorta glad," sings Argos over a bulky faux-disco beat. "Billie's Genes" answers one of pop music's biggest riddles without ever mentioning the King of Pop by name (although Screamin' Jay Hawkins is referenced).
The gloves come off for "GIRLFREN (You Know I've Got A)," as French Resistance lay into Avril Lavigne for stealing both boys and songs (in reference to her theft from, and eventual settlement with, the Rubinoos). "I've always kind of hated Avril Lavigne," explains Argos. "Her song, 'Girlfriend,' even in the video she's stealing these men from other girls."
Buoyed by handclaps and a rolling keyboard line, Argos paints Lavigne as a relentless stalker in "GIRLFREN." An aggressive suitor unable to listen to reason, Argos declares, "I'm very in love with someone else, we've got concerns about your mental health," while Valdés sends one final message to the Canadian popstress (fictitiously) eyeing her man: "He won't stray, so go away."
But in correcting the ways of pop music, Fixin' the Charts, Vol. 1 is not entirely vitriolic in its aim at making things right. While the downtrodden chip-shop broom pusher in "Coal Digger"—a response to Kanye West's "Gold Digger" and Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman"—is supported by a generous girlfriend, the song is less a reaction to pop economics as it is a reflection of Argos' younger days. "It all boils down to basically still being about me," the former real-life chip-shop employee explains. "I've had horrible jobs: I was a postman, the chip shop, and I was even a traffic warden [meter maid]. I got sacked from that, 'cause I was too nice."
But before you assemble a list of pop atrocities to assign the French Resistance for Fixin' the Charts, Vol. 2, they are already well ahead of you. There is "Sunday Morning Hangover," their proposed response to Mott the Hoople's fine "Saturday Gigs," and their retort to Donovan's nautical tale "Atlantis."
"I really like that song, but I don't believe, obviously, in what he's talking about," explains Argos. "We thought we'd write a song like 'Atlantis' and make it scientific, about how the world was actually formed. We thought we'd write the scientific response to that song. It's so much fun playing with other people's characters and other people's songs... we're just kind of adding to the story."