It’s chilly outside. Well I’d imagine it is most of the time in Sheffield. It’s also known for the mass production of steel, a soccer club adorned by the name of a weekday and more recently the shenanigans of a few men stripping for a living were brought to life in the box office hit that was The Full Monty. Now emerge the Arctic Monkeys. Just in case we might have confused them with their American predecessors who pranced about on a gimmicky TV show while making third rate pop music, the chilly continent has been inserted in the official title for those who otherwise affectionately refer to them, simply, as the monkeys. But it’s chilly in Sheffield and this band of primates isn’t going to lead us into believing anything else. There’s riots, underage drinking, bent bouncers and prostitutes in Sheffield and all are vividly evoked on the most talked about album of 2006, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. In fact this had been the most talked about album for most of 2005 as well.
A modern day phenomenon but it seems for every reason apart from music. Their songs were widely available for free on the internet and they’ve been cutting their teeth as a live act for two years and more. Alex Turner, the lead singer is only 19, and in an age when fame is as instant as coffee, awareness of the Arctic Monkeys has climbed a curve that is almost gradual. For the moment that curve has curved a peak and only time will tell what the public has in store for the band that has produced the fastest selling debut album of all time. And all this in an age when the iPod has firmly established itself as the primary conduit of music.
In other words there was no necessity to go out and buy this album; to “shift units” for the record company and yet thousands did. Why? Phenomenon all too easily escapes lips and there ends the need for explanation so we all go and enjoy the music.
Which is what most seem to be doing and with just cause. The Arctic Monkeys aren’t a phenomenon in music terms but their context certainly makes for interesting reading.
This album isn’t the greatest ever made and nor is it likely to make a dent in the top 10 greatest albums list that define most music connoisseurs. But that’s not the point and nor should it ever be. Stripped of their context The Arctic Monkeys become what, exactly…?
Four young lads in a band who are making their way in life and in music and this significant junction has resulted in an excellent album that has rightly captivated a generation disaffected with bouncers who “secretly want it all to kick off”.
There is intelligence, but no condescension; nobody telling you what charity to support and where to donate your spare cash and who to vent your spleen at. These are musicians with a talent and it is talent that has this band on display, which has this band in the CD collections of so many people. They aren’t famous for fame’s sake nor are they using Hello magazine or Louis Walsh as a crutch to keep them in the limelight. And no threat of a fitness video either I’d imagine!
Arctic Monkeys have absorbed a lot of other bands along the way. The opening track is reminiscent of 'Supergrass’ circa In It For the Money while the video for I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor might have been Joy Division sounding off in 2006.
It was the song to accompany that video that appeared to really illuminate what had merely been a spectre before then. Replete with the bombastic chorus, the song is infectious if only for the easy 'shout-along’ nature of the track, while Alex Turner shows off his lyrical talent;
”Oh there int no love no, Montagues or Capulets,
Just banging tunes in DJ sets and
Dirty dancefloors and dreams of naughtiness.”
Fake Tales of San Francisco is worthy of a listen based on the brilliance of the title alone. Arctic Monkeys don’t just follow the golden rule of writing about what they know, they pour scorn on those inclined to embellish their tales, their disgust made manifest by Turner’s wry comment;
”He talks of San Francisco, he’s from Hunter’s Bar
I don’t quite know the distance
But I’m sure that’s far
I’m sure that’s pretty far.”
The more you listen to this album the more you want to go back and listen. Arctic Monkeys are so in command of their craft that the music flows from track to track, as though each one is but a mere instalment in a greater whole. A change of tempo here and there seems perfectly placed each time; a riff assaults your aural cavities every so often to remind you why rock is such a powerful beast. All the while Alex Turner is unravelling the essence of growing up in Sheffield which is so vivid and unrelenting that Sheffield becomes an everywhere.
From girls with fake tan (“under these lights you look beautiful”) to boys drinking (“have you been drinking son, you don’t look old enough to me?”) and the tortured battle to get into a nightclub in From the Ritz to the Rubble, each tale comes doused with an ever greater dose of realism.
”That girl’s a different girl today
That girl’s a different girl to her you kissed last night.”
Maybe it’s fitting that the title of the last track is A Certain Romance, because it has been with that thought in mind that most have greeted Arctic Monkeys. A rebirth of a 'band with mass appeal’ in such a way that some were reminded of the Beatles’ explosion back in 1964, but then the Beatles’ were as much about their context as their music.
There will never be the same cultural explosion again but rejoice in the fact that Arctic Monkeys have reawakened a popular consciousness that had been beaten into submission by the Crazy Frog.
There’s only music so that there’s new ring tones.” [A Certain Romance]
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