Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
The Arctic Monkeys
4 of 5 Stars
Music has seen its fair share of messianic hype recently. But while Kanye had to declare himself the second coming, British rock act Arctic Monkeys had prophets to proselytize for them, even before the release of their first album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.” Incited by a handful of internet demos—and a rabid fan base—the ever-hyperbolic British music press set out to anoint them as the new kings of music. And while the excitable NME magazine finds a new best-band-of-all-time whenever its interns connect to the iTunes music store, for once, they’re pretty close to right.
Pretty close, because these frigid simians still have a little thawing out to do. Luckily, they’ve got plenty of time. Alex Turner, lead vocalist and guitarist, is still only 19, and none of his three bandmates have much more than a year on him. Despite this, the sensations from Sheffield have released a self-assured debut with style to spare, even if it’s not the genre-defining album many across the pond wanted.
Arctic Monkeys don’t bring anything especially new to the crowded garage-band potluck, but they’ve done a good job of sampling from the genre’s different tastes. Their guitars rattle and scream like those of the Hives, Turner occasionally shout-sings à la Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, and many of the pseudo-poppy melodies sound like a super-charged version of the Kaiser Chiefs.
What’s most amazing is that, despite the fact that they picked up their respective instruments only three and a half years ago, Arctic Monkeys are as tight and technically proficient as any of the aforementioned bands.
It doesn’t get much better than the explosive leadoff track, “The View From The Afternoon.” Crammed with myriad ideas that each would have made for a perfectly decent Blur song, the track barrels along, picking up so much momentum that it eventually crashes to a halt, only to lurch back up to speed again. Despite its four-minute runtime, it feels epic.
If the album’s other tracks never quite match that intensity, they also don’t severely disappoint. Arctic Monkeys are delightfully consistent, although the album’s pacing leaves a little to be desired.
When they finally slow down for the not-entirely-convincing ballad “Riot Van,” they’ve have already run through six amped-up numbers and they only keep it mellow for two minutes. However, Turner and company regain their footing and the album closes with “A Certain Romance,” a wonderfully observed tale of love among the young and stupid.
The lyrics grow stale by the record’s end. Despite the fact that Arctic Monkeys won’t be able to buy alcohol while touring the states, they’ve written an inordinate number of songs about drinking and partying. Turner’s brand of hedonistic disillusionment isn’t terribly fresh, and when he sings about fake tans one can’t help but think that Mike Skinner of the Streets did a much better job of covering the same material.
“Anticipation has a habit to set you up / for disappointment,” Turner sings, but a few lines later he assures us that “Tonight there’ll be a ruckus, yeah, regardless of what’s gone before.” And he’s right: as long as you don’t anticipate the best album ever, you’ll have a great time enjoying the ruckus.