Review Summary: Arctic Monkeys back in 2007: hype or not?
Don't like saying much about myself here on Sputnik, espacially not in reviews. It's all about the music, remember? But before posting this little article, it's probably best to say that in my spare time I write for Up Magazine, an independent underground rock magazine in The Netherlands. For every issues, the editor in chief posts a thesis to which everyone can react - contributors, musicians and readers alike. For Up 36 (May 2007) it was 'Hyped bands always get too much attention', with the following scenario as a starting point: 'Are you also sick of the hype around bands like The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys, while you hardly ever read anything about your favourite band(s)? Articles about Peter Pan Speedrock and Slipknot for example are rare. It's always the same (English) artists who get all the attention, while less famous bands often deliver much better albums.'
My reaction, which I didn't submit due to laziness with the deadline approaching, was as follows:
"'Hype: intensive, exaggerated or artificially induced excitement about, or enthusiasm for, something or someone, which or who's value hasn't been proven yet'. Defining something as a hype thus implies that you support the opinion that one specific artist or band receives too much attention. In so far, the thesis is 100% correct. Nevertheless some hyped acts do have quality. Last year for example, due to an inventive marketing strategy, Gnarls Barkley got a lot of attention, but they backed it up with one hell of a record. Exit hype. A little while back the same scenario happened with Gorillaz' debut album and even Slipknot's debut, one of the bands mentioned in the thesis. And to be honest, even the Arctic Monkeys have got something going. In my opinion their debut had some great songs but overall it wasn't that good and did get way too much attention (which means there's a hype - exaggerated and artificially induced excitement about a band), but they had a certain freshness over them and -like I said before- showed potential. With their second album coming up later this year we'll see to what extent the enthusiasm surrounding these youngsters is justified and if they're able to evolve from hype into a steady factor in rock music, recognized for what they have to offer musically."
Apparently not impressed by the success -or maybe even stimulated by it in a way; as if they were thinking 'heck, you think you know us?, well we'll show you!'- they fully lived up to their debut album's title. With 'Favourite Worst Nightmare' the Arctic Monkeys show a darker and heaver side, bound to detach the giggly teenage groupies as their fan base, if it wasn't just the hype they were running after. Once they get that pedestalized image out of their heads, they'll indeed find out in the end that they will wake up screaming at night just at the thought of having to listen to this new record once more. Lovely picture, isn't it? But hey, I should be talking about the album right now. So, here we go.
The surprise already starts with the opening blasts of first single 'Brianstorm', a heavy rocker combining repetitive schemes with heavy grooves and a truckload of breaks (no chorus!). The lyrics too are incredible. They could be about a guy not seeing his opportunities. But at the same time it could be about an arrogant character or even about the people surrounding him - admiring him, bullying him, looking down upon him. It's maybe a bit weird to choose that song as a single, but on the other hand it is perfectly logical, taken in account that they're obviously making a statement. Second song 'Teddy Picker' is probably the most reminiscent of two of the better tunes on their first album ('I Bet That You Look Good On The Dance Floor' and 'Fake Tales of San Francisco'), which is actually quite funny as it seems to question the exaggerated attention they got and the pressure it puts on the shoulders of a bunch of ordinary blokes. The staccato rhythm is catchy as hell, with cool transitions and some hypnotic guitar parts in the second half of the song before going into the chorus again and surprisingly ending with what almost seems half a verse. The swinging grooves continue in 'D Is For Dangerous', which functions more or less as the title song. The bass line sticks in your head and the drumming is (as always) damn fine. I really dig Matt's playing, the way he puts completely different paces together in one song - let's them twirl around each other creating that unique atmosphere; forming a great rhythm section with the all-over-the-place basslines. 'Balaclava' is one of my favourites on the album. It's really diverse with lots of changes in pace, a beautiful laid back passage and even an aggressive marching rhythm, which makes me in a way think it could be about the Crimean War. On the other hand it could also be about the relationship between one man and himself or one man and a girl(friend). The lyrics are absolutely wonderful, but one line stands on its own, can be lifted from the pack and be the starting point of a philosophical conversation: you'll be able to post any day of the most
/ for the sights of all time
'Fluorescent Adolescent' is the second single and is pretty slow with pretty sped-up vocal lines. It's the song I like the least, as it's more basic & simple than the other songs and less catchy. But on the other hand it's a nice bridge from 'Balaclava' to the beautiful ballad 'Only Ones Who Know'. Especially in that department the Arctic Monkeys have made a huge leap forward. Whereas on the debut the slow songs tended to get way too cheesy, they seem much more authentic this time around. Three minutes seem to fly by, chord fade out in the end before 'Do Me A Favour' starts with a cool, rolling bassline and laid back guitar, overall creating an almost surreal atmosphere, which strengthens towards the end when the guitar chords start picking up pace with lots of effects after a quiet break. Great song and another display of the songwriting qualities of Alex Turner. But just when you think you heard it all they come up with two songs that seemlessly melt into each other. 'This House Is A Circus' and 'If You Were There, Beware' form a diptych and are the most ambitious thing they've done so far. There's a lot to discover and it works exceptionally well. Won't tell anything more. Just listen to it and experience the ride. After that trip it seems sensible to get back to an up-tempo, easy listening rock tune. And so they deliver 'The Bad Thing', followed by 'Old Yellow Bricks' - another catchy song and one of the few real sing-alongs on this album. It's probably about the duality of living in Sheffield, but it could be about any town that sleeps. And we'll be asleep after closer '505', which starts after a 4 second pause. Musically it tends to the ballad side again, with an eerie atmosphere. I wouldn't be surprised if Mercury Rev has been a huge influence on this one, either on purpose or subconsciously. Just lyrically it doesn't match up to the other songs on the album and it somehow seems as if Turner didn't quite find the right way of saying what he's saying; didn't quite find the right words.
Clocking in at just under 38 Minutes 'Favourite Worst Nightmare' is a pretty short album, but it doesn't need to be any longer. It's got everything: quality, diversity, great songs and class A musicianship. And -a huge plus- they didn't want to copy their hit album 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not', but instead chose to do what every real musician wants to do and that is make the best album possible. And they did. I'm curious what the future will bring. For now I am pleased to see that the Arctic Monkeys have matured, but without losing their innocent, down to earth bird's eye view on the world around them.