Monday, January 16, 2006

oh, alright, i like the arctic monkeys

Always one to follow fashion, I've been listening to the new Arctic Monkeys album, 'Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not' and - although I was prickly and dismissive of the Monkeys when I first heard them - I have to admit to being impressed with the record. I keep reading reviews which hurriedly sum the band up as saying they cherry-pick from The Who, The Kinks, The Jam, The Smiths The Strokes, The Libertines etc, which I find pretty lazy. It's shorthand I suppose for saying that the album is not fantastically original, but that's a curious allegation to level against a band of 19 year olds making their first LP, especially in an area as conservative as indie rock. Like most guitar records you'll hear this year, the Arctic Monkeys sound a bit like a few other people. But they also sound much fresher and more interesting than I'd given them credit for.

The first thing of note is the guitars; nice loud crunchy guitars which are at times more reminiscent of the full throttle Mudhoney than the tinny, ramshackle Libertines - it's nice to hear a production job which doesn't follow the brittle post-punk blueprint and instead goes for volume and effect. Alex Turner's vocals, meanwhile, unlike Doherty's, are more than strong enough to punch through the sound, as he does to such great effect on 'I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor', which is great apart from the horrible backing vocals. Elsewhere, there are a couple of really quite decent tracks ('When The Sun Goes Down' and 'From The Ritz to the Rubble'), a bunch of stompers (if Pete Doherty had the nous to write 'Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But..' he wouldn't be in this mess) and at least two tracks which are amongst the loveliest I've heard all year (and last year, I guess).

'Mardy Bum' is the most immediate; one of the best examples of Turner's really quite impressive lyric-writing skills. It's all about a relationship pock-marked by arguments - something most of us know about - but carried with a maturity well beyond his years. "Now then Mardy Bum", Turner sings, "Well, I'm in trouble again / Aren't I? / I thought as much / 'cos you turned over there / wearing that silent dissapointment face / the one that I can't bear" - all of which is well observed enough, but he gets it absolutely spot on when he sings

"Yeah I'm sorry I was late.
Well, I missed the train,
And then the traffic was a state.
And I can't be arsed to carry on in this debate
That reoccurs, oh when you say I don't care.
Well of course I do, yeah I CLEARLY DO!".

Even better is Turner's take on youth culture in the marvellous, closing 'A Certain Romance', which is a really lovely, neo-Jarvis Cockerian rumination of adolescent frustration on the streets of Yorkshire. "Well oh they might wear classic Reeboks", the song begins, "Or knackered Converse / Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks / But all of that's what the point is not / The point is that there ain't no romance around there". What's really charming about a band of teenagers singing about teenage life is that they really know what they're talking about, and Turner doesn't bother castigating or celebrating his contemporaries. "They'll never listen", he sings, "cause they're minds are made up". But he brilliantly adds "and of course, it's okay to carry on that way", which is a delightful display of nonchalance and beautifully delivered.

The entire lyric bears reproduction, to be honest, from Turner noting that there's "only music so that there's new ringtones" to observing that "just cause he's had a couple of cans / he thinks it's alright to act like a dickhead". The best lines come at the end, when he sighs

"Well over there there's friends of mine,
What can I say, I've known 'em for a long long time.
And yeah they might overstep the line,
But you just cannot get angry in the same way"

I don't think the Arctic Monkeys are the best new band in Britain or "the band of your generation" as the NME put it last week or anything like that, but on the evidence of 'Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not' they're uniquely timely and expressive. I'm seeing them on the NME tour in February with Maximo Park, the Mystery Jets and We Are Scientists, and I'm really looking forward to it now.

4 comments:

mark Barkaway said...

thanks for your thoughts. I too have been cynical cos of all the hype, but you convined me to take a second look at them. cheers!

Ben said...

It's admirable that you've surmounted your initial prejudices. You're a better man than me on that front - I just can't be bothered with them. This is a valiant effort to convince people like me otherwise, though.

jonathan said...

I think they're worth a look. I'm quite sure that this is a record I won't listen to at all in six months time, but it has enough going for it to be worth a listen or two.

I was actually shamed into giving them another go by Stephen, who very properly pointed out that I was being unduly derogatory about them without much of a reason. Ah well.

Kate said...

spot on!

brilliant blog by the way! Did you really win that award?