Review Summary: The band lock together with a fluidity and instinctiveness not found on their debut, allowing them to experiment sonically without losing focus.
In mere hours, the British singles chart placements will be released, revealing the all-important entry position of ‘Brianstorm,’ the first single from Arctic Monkey’s Favourite Worst Nightmare
Midweek charts suggest the Sheffield foursome will be denied a fourth number one by that most demographically privileged of duets, Beyoncé and Shakira’s ‘Beautiful Liar.’ Nevertheless, the single’s stellar performance confirms that a) Arctic Monkeys have lost little of their early appeal; and b) they can pretty much get away with releasing anything. Clocking in just below three minutes, ‘Brianstorm’ sets the tone for the album: short, swift and aggressive pop songs punctuated by frontman Alex Turner’s (over)elaborate descriptions and memorable one-liners. The dance-influenced textures are a welcome addition- producer James Ford was clearly drafted for his excellent work with Londoners Klaxons, and the track’s percussive, almost surf-informed guitar licks are testament to this- but the distinct lack of a solid hook means it’s a puzzling choice for a lead single.
The Klaxons/Ford influence continues through the disc. Turner has performed sporadic DJ sets at London clubs over the past year or so, and that scene has come distinctly to bear on the new material, at least to a greater degree than before, and a kinship has developed between it and the DFA Records-led dance-punk scene. Instrumentally, the funk hinted at briefly on Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
has been stepped up considerably, blending seamlessly with the group’s rough-edged post-punk sound. ‘Balaclava’s warm guitar sound brings to mind a glitchy version of The Strokes; ‘If You Were There, Beware’ uses a second guitar in place of a synth to create a tonic effect a la Klaxons; while ‘Old Yellow Bricks’ and ‘This House Is A Circus’ would fit comfortably beside anything in the LCD Soundsystem catalogue.
Above all else, it was Alex Turner’s distinctive vocals and unusually mature and well-composed lyrics which made Arctic Monkeys a movement rather than a mere music group. Like Oasis, Blur and The Smiths before them, the Monkeys endeared themselves with great tunes, but it was the words Turner hung on those melodies which bought them their spot in the collective consciousness, combining the learned sensitivity of Morrissey with the blunt, uncompromising style of Noel Gallagher, all layered on top of aggressive, Libertines-inspired power grooves. But as Morrissey, Gallagher and Doherty each discovered upon finding fame, it’s not so easy to relate to people when you’ve spent more on room service than most have their cars. None of the three was able to stay sober long enough to sustain their relevance- thankfully, Turner’s not followed in their footsteps quite yet.
While he occasionally lapses into self-parody (“see you later, innovator” from ‘Brianstorm’ falls the wrong side of the “that’s cool, that’s retro!”/“that was barely witty thirty years ago!” line), and there’s never quite the same sense of a writer expressing himself with effortless consistency, Favourite Worst Nightmare
is at the very least something to write home about. Turner’s massive shift in fortunes hasn’t impacted his style considerably; he no longer sings of prostitutes and over-eager policemen, but he’s still very much an observer: standout ‘The Only Ones Who Know’ has shades of ‘When The Sun Goes Down,’ a conversational piece about a young couple, thrust together in a strange place. Turner wonders how their relationship will work out, noting despondently that people have “made it far too easy to believe that true romance can’t be achieved these days”
‘This House Is A Circus’ is another highlight, an apparent indictment of certain aspects of celebrity life. Turner throws out half-rapped observations the likes of “the more you’re opening your mouth, the more you’re forcing performance”
and “we’re struggling with the notion that it’s life, not film.”
The chorus reads: “we’re forever unfilled… can’t think why. Like a search for murder clues in a dead man’s eyes.”
‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ is the ready-made single of the disc, a dead-ringer for The Fratellis, boasting the line “you took a left up Last Laugh Lane.”
‘Teddy Picker’ pays homage to Simon LeBon with the line “save it ‘til the morning after”
and the reverb-fuelled gang chant “who’d wanna be men of the people when there’s people like you”
has a hint of the closing of Manic Street Preachers’ ‘Faster.’
Instrumentally, the improvement across the board is incredible. Drummer Matt Helders goes well beyond the call of duty- ‘If You Were There, Beware’ cycles furious punk passages, inventive jazz licks and impressive hi-hat work to round off the hip hop influence- and has allegedly taken up boxing to help gain the necessary stamina to last a full tour. New bassist Nick O’Malley is equally adept keeping rhythm with the drummer and adding colour to the guitarists’ melodies. Jamie Cook’s role as guitarist has been expanded to include greater textures, as exemplified by the depressed, jazzy chords of closer ‘505’ and the Trashcan Sinatras-like violin effect of the intro to ‘The Only Ones Who Know.’ The four lock together with a fluidity and instinctiveness not found on their debut and this allows them to experiment sonically without completely losing focus.
Yet Favourite Worst Nightmare
was always going to be underwhelming to some degree. The band made the right decision to bite the bullet early rather than dragging the “difficult second album” stigma out, but there’s still plenty to be excited about. For the first time, the band is inconsistent: for every glimpse of something special like ‘The Only Ones Who Know,’ there’s a ‘Fluorescent Adolescent,’ the type of banal pop song more suited to the legions of inferior bands on the indie pop scene. While ‘Teddy Pickers’ and ‘D Is For Dangerous’ subtly update the band’s sound while retaining the instant familiarity of earlier material, ‘Brianstorm’ sounds more like an impromptu jam than a pre-conceived composition and ‘Do Me A Favour’ never really manages to set itself apart from the ‘White Wedding’ bassline upon which its built.
Favourite Worst Nightmare
is still a very listenable album, stunning in places, but from the outset appears rushed and half-finished, and this makes for a disappointing listen.