Review Summary: A solid sophomore which did nothing to damage the band's glowing reputation.
Such is the frankly ludicrous level of hype generated by the British press, any band that delivers a sound and endearing debut album instantly comes under far greater pressure to produce a follow up which is not only up to scratch, but better. This has led to the sad demise of many a promising act that couldn’t handle the heat, with the Stone Roses sophomore slump being perhaps the most obvious example. Seeing such failures fall before them was clearly at the forefront of Sheffield quartet Arctic Monkeys’ minds in 2007 as they readied themselves for their own second round. Their task was tougher than most; debut album Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not had spawned two UK number one singles, shattered sales records and wormed its way into the nations hearts to such an extent that it was being hailed as a cultural milestone mere months after release. It all surmounted to arguably the most eagerly anticipated British somphomore of the decade – no pressure then...
Clearly, though, this was a challenge that they took to heart. Released little over a year later, Favourite Worst Nightmare was bashed out in double quick time, with the band seemingly keen to distance themselves from the long awaited disappointments a la Second Coming. This also had the effect of maintaining the feverish momentum they had gathered, hurling them back into the public’s conscience no sooner than they had left. The air of excitement was only enhanced by lead single Brianstorm, a frantic, aggressive rocker which brought promise of a new heavier direction coupled with an altogether darker sound. It seemed that Arctic Monkeys were leaving behind much of the youthful abandon which had brought them so much success, and were ready to explore pastures new.
But this never really came to be. As brilliant an opening track and and lead single as Brianstorm was, it proved a somewhat false start with regards to the album of material which followed. Continuing with the driving indie-punk of their debut, the record by and large proved a logical yet small progression. The spiky riffs remain, coupled with a slightly more streamlined sound, while the tempos have been lowered slightly in a considerably less full-throttle approach. It’s changes like these which prevent it from attracting the ‘more of the same’ label, but it’s a subtle change at best and certainly not the unadulterated rock out that Brianstorm hinted at. That’s not to say that it can’t be an immensely satisfying sound, though, and indeed there are some other excellent highlights on offer. Teddy Picker and Old Yellow Bricks, for instance, bubble with energy despite their relatively simple arrangements, and offer perhaps the most simple pleasures from the band yet. Fluorescent adolescent, on the other hand, is a glorious ballad, which confirms Alex Turner’s masterful touch in this particular aspect of his songwriting, and ranks among his best loved songs.
One area where Favourite Worst Nightmare does prove a definite departure is lyrically, with Turner shifting his focus somewhat from engaging social commentary to witty, and occasionally hilarious one-liners. It’s a move which backs up some fan’s perceptions that their debut was, in fact, a concept album, but the frontman’s words remain one of his band’s most appealing aspects, especially with the appearance of lines such as “this house is a circus, beserkus, ***.” On the instrumental side of things, the departure of bassist Andy Nicholson seems to have had little effect on the band’s core sound and focus, with his replacement Nick O’Malley putting in a performance which is competent without ever really standing out among the rest of the mix.
Unfortunately, despite the fabulous highlights covered, this is an album which also contains more than it’s fair share of filler, which can drag standards down considerably. It’s one thing coming up with a swift second helping, but doing it while maintaining previously established quality can be an altogether tougher challenge, and as a result there are sections of this record which do come across as rather rushed. This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise from a band so eager to justify the burden of hype, but they have nevertheless ended up stumbling over their own heels somewhat in the process. On it’s own, this is another impressive album, and a functional follow-up, but given the context it is slightly underwhelming. It’s an album that sounds a little too comfortable in it’s own skin, yet one which luckily did nothing to damage the band’s glowing reputation.