Review Summary: The Arctic Monkeys follow their excellent debut with an even better sophomore effort.
With their opening album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,”, the Arctic Monkeys created a massive storm of hype. Critics hailed it as an instant classic, with NME dubbing it the 5th best British rock album of all time, better than, among others, London Calling, Revolver, and OK Computer. Allow me to be completely upfront for one moment: that album is not nearly that good. It’s an excellent album, full of great poppy songs which helped it become the fastest-selling British debut of all time, but while the enormous praise the debut received was not completely unwarranted, is was not completely justified either.
Which brings us to their follow-up effort, “Favorite Worst Nightmare,”. Before the album, the band went through a lineup change; their bassist Andy Nicholson left the band, stating that he could not deal with the band’s fame. He was replaced with Nick O’Malley. The change brought no change in sound that would have occurred otherwise; I believe that the maturation of the band found in the album is natural and has nothing to do with the change in bassist, and I don’t think I’ll have too many opponents on that topic.
After their debut, people everywhere were yearning for more Arctic Monkeys. As a result, the band went right back into the studio after touring and released their sophomore effort only a year after their debut. While other bands in the same vein have had trouble with sophomore efforts (the Strokes, who are clearly an influence on the band, in particular come to mind), the Arctic Monkeys get it right. The music matures, but not too much. There is clearly a bit of experimentation, which yields some of the brightest moments on the album, but not too much to the point where the band would lose some of their hard-earned fans. There are still plenty of brilliant pop melodies to go around. Alex Turner’s lyrics are still cynically clever and intriguing; he still sings in that endearing accent. Luckily, fame clearly hasn’t had a massive effect on his songwriting. Most importantly, the album is slightly better than their first effort, thanks to more variety and stronger production.
The album starts off with a bang with, “Brianstorm,”. It’s immediately clear that, at the very least, the technical ability displayed on the album will surpass the previous one. The drums in particular are quite good; there’s a reason that one critic stated, “if you removed everything on the album except Matt Helders’ drumming, it’d still be a pretty gripping listen.” His work on the hi-hats is exquisite throughout the album; he also has an ability to make the drums slowly build up along with the music, making the multiple buildups scattered throughout the album that much better. This talent is showcased in, “D is for Dangerous”, a highlight on the album. The bass-line in the song is one of the best on the album. The bridge is the best part of the song, with Helders slowly adding one piece of drumming at a time while the tempo slowly picks up and the bass goes crazy.
“Balaclava” opens with single notes on bass that are somehow catchy. The outro features some odd percussion instrument; the use of said instrument shows their new maturity. “Fluorescent Adolescent,” is quite simply one of the best pop songs you will ever find. Jamie Cook’s guitar blends seamlessly with Turner’s, the lyrics are quite memorable (“You used to get it in your fishnets, now you only get it in your night dress,” is both clever and catchy), and the overall composition ensures that the song will be in your head all day.
The real experimentation on the album begins here. “Only Ones Who Know,” can be related to “Riot Van,” off of the previous album, except even softer and more relaxing. Unlike “Riot Van,”, there are no drums found on the track. The guitars are atmospheric, leaving Turner to grip the listener, which he does quite well. The bass found at the end of the track can be attributed to the quality production found throughout the album. The song leaves you feeling very soothed. It also leaves you expecting a blast of opening energy from the next track, so it seems odd when you hear a tom-tom led beat from Helders, followed by simple chords on the guitar. “Do Me a Favour,” is another clear highlight on the album. The song slowly builds up into a majestic moment where the guitars crash in and everything gets loud. Also, it knows its length and doesn’t overextend its stay, like some songs that fall in the same vein tend to do. The song is also one of the best lyrically on the album, featuring lines like, “Perhaps *** off might be too kind,”.
The couplet “This House is a Circus/If You Were There, Beware,” is nothing special, though they do contain some good moments (the fuzzy bass in the bridge of the former track and the stunning riff coming in from silence in the second track come to mind). “Old Yellow Bricks” is another highlight. Opening with a driving riff and powerful bass-drums, the song makes you want to move. Sporadic hi-hats drop in and out of the verse, while the chorus features echoing chords. This track is another lyrical highlight, with, ”And the days, being dull, lead to nights reading beer bottles “ being the best.
Which leads us to the best track of the album, “505”. This is a perfect example of how to make a song build up. It opens with some chords on an organ, which is interesting enough. The soft, minor chords add to the atmosphere created by the organ. Helders once again showcases his ability to make the drums build up seamlessly with the music. The bass enters quite well, using pauses to enhance its sound. The music backtracks for a second, going back to what is was near the beginning, then Turner screams, “But I crumble completely when you cry,” and the song immediately takes off. The song ends with a guitar riff slowing down and fading out on top of the organ.
In the end, this is probably the best album that the Arctic Monkeys will release. With the divisive Humbug and attempt at returning to their roots of Suck It and See, there are absolutely no indicators that the band will return to the great, energetic pop of their first two albums. However, if you’re going to not reach the heights of an album in your career again, try to make the heights pretty high up there, like the Arctic Monkeys did with this album.