Review Summary: The hype is warranted as this is a thoroughly recommended fun debut which contains excellent songwriting, strangely charming vocals & very good musicianship which will have you rocking, tapping your toes & singing along.
Let’s face it… Hype will always exist in the music industry. However, it has to be concerning when such praise is lumped upon 4 young lads barely out of their teens. In any context, how can such a young band be the so-called saviors of music or most important group of a particular era? It therefore comes as an especially pleasing greeting when front-man Alex Turner speaks the words “Don’t believe the hype” at the beginning of the video for their 1st single. Whether it’s a reverse psychology marketing ploy or not, it is welcome and a hopeful sign of maturity and level-headedness.
As if to hammer the point home, the opening lyric of their debut album (tellingly titled ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not') is “Anticipation has the habit to set you up for disappointment…“. Maybe more importantly is the fact that the song which it leads off on, ‘The View From The Afternoon’, is an absolutely cracking opener. Immediately hooky, the first minute showcases impressive instrumentation as well as effective vocals. Structurally, the song is better for holding its chorus back and while the mid-track halt is a little gimmicky, it thankfully does not result in a padded out feel.
Yet things get better when 1st single and album highlight ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ rollicks along next. An up-tempo cut that includes great bass-playing, passionate drumming and effective guitar-work, this track sees the band at their accessible best as catchy hooks frequent the song. This results in the Arctic Monkeys sounding somewhere between the dance-rock of Franz Ferdinand and the grittier sound of early Oasis, if not something a little more punky.
Musically, the rhythm section of the band is astonishingly good considering that drummer Matt Helders took on the job by default and bassist Andy Nicholson struggled to handle life as a star. The bass drives many of the tracks efficiently and is mixed perfectly, while it is clear to see Helders puts in his all behind the kit. Elsewhere, Jamie Cook’s and Turner’s guitar-work combine well as a team, without being totally outstanding.
Out front, Turner is one of those vocalists that simply creates magic out of what many believe could be potentially cringe-worthy. On paper, his thick Northern English accent should scare many non-Brits away. But in reality, his charm, wit & charisma are significantly appealing. ‘Riot Van’ at the mid-point of the album is the perfect example of this as it is a 2 minute interlude of sorts that contains very little background music. It clearly relies on Turner, who somehow makes it not only act as album variety, but turns it into a darn good track in isolation, as that well-known wry English humor is used to recount a night’s encounter with the police.
Of course, it also helps that Turner is a terrific songwriter and storyteller. The clear theme throughout the album is young men out on the town getting inebriated. Yet, the writing talent does not see the negative aspects of repetition set in at all. It simply is too difficult to not get involved in the tales being told, whether it is settling for women you would not usually be seen with (‘Still Take You Home’), getting yourself home after a big night out (the immediately groovy ‘Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured’), the frustrations of the opposite sex (the sweet & melodic fan favorite ‘Mardy Bum’) or confrontations with bouncers (‘From the Ritz to the Rubble’).
Variety, which cynics could question here, is provided efficiently and subtly through changes of pace and musical concentration. See the more deliberately paced ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’ as compared to the more up-tempo 2 minute long ‘You Probably Couldn't See for the Lights But You Were Staring Straight at Me’, which also contains effectively energetic vocals. The only mishap on the album in search of something different is the overlong ‘Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong But…’, whose darker distorted vibe doesn’t fit in and sees the band get a little ahead of themselves as they attempt to convey the pitfalls of fame. It is a song which would have much better suited their follow-up EP to be released soon after.
The track ordering is also worth making mention of as it keeps the interest of the listener through to the very end. The excellent 2nd single ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ is cleverly placed as track 11. Beginning methodically, it works into a positively infectious cut that is highlighted by a super effective bass line, as the repetitively sing-along chorus backs up the rest of the lyrical content concerning the low-life’s of the street. Meanwhile, the fitting 5+ minute closer ‘A Certain Romance’ is a strong piece, even if it is too ambitious in attempting to encapsulate the entire album into one track.
When this debut effort was released, it sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the first week. No wonder, as it is an exemplary album which deservedly won many ‘Album of the Year’ awards. Excellent songwriting and strangely charming vocals combine near-perfectly with very good musicianship to result in a great sound that will have you rocking, tapping your toes and singing along… Often all on the same track. Furthermore, this album is fun, which means it almost has a character to it in itself. Thoroughly recommended, we can only hope that the Arctic Monkeys do not lose too many of their trademark characteristics as they mature.
Recommended Tracks: I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor, When The Sun Goes Down, The View From the Afternoon, Riot Van & Mardy Bum.