I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for the Arctic Monkeys for a good 8 years, now. A friend of mine had discovered their Myspace (?!) page in the summer of 2005, and very quickly their collection of sardonic demo recordings found themselves in heavy rotation of my then-top-of-the-line 4th generation iPod. That autumn, we bought tickets to go and see the Monkeys the following February at Cardiff University as they were on the NME Awards Tour.
In an excellent bit of timing, their first album – Whatever People I Say, That’s What I’m Not – dropped about two weeks before the gig, and had become the UK fastest ever selling debut. They were..well, if not ‘huge’, they were well on the way, and walking from the car park towards Cardiff Uni’s Great Hall we were accosted by several people desperate to pay top money for the tickets that we’d bought for about £14 three months previously. The show itself it was an odd one; all 4 of the bands there put on excellent sets (I became a fan of We Are Scientists that night), but after the Monkeys’ 45 minute set – in which I was genuinely impressed how well the teenagers played live – the place seemed to empty out almost entirely, before the headliners – Geordie band Maxïmo Park – even came onto the stage. (I actually felt bad for them. They had their own fancy dan set stage decorations and everything.)
Since then I’ve remained a fan of the Sheffield band, and possibly the main reason is that they are the no longer the slightly awkward, shy teenagers that they were on WYSIA,TWIN. Lead singer Alex Turner’s haircuts alone could tell you a detailed story about how far they’ve come. Recently he’s been sporting an odd sort of quiff that suggests extreme confidence with a touch of arrogance – and that’s exactly in line with this record.
Having read a few reviews of AM from other, less well-esteemed outlets (like the NME, which apparently is trying to attain self-parody status with its “10/10! Best album of the decade!!” proclamations) it seems to be at this stage that I’m supposed to discuss the ‘west coast’ style of the album. I have absolutely no idea what that means. What I will say, however is that this album is really, really good. While some of the lyrical catchiness that marks out many of their recordings is generally not here, that’s made up for with at least half a dozen songs that will stay in your head for ages after you’ve heard them.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some enjoyment to be had merely from the lyrics, however. Aside from the the twelfth and final track I Wanna Be Yours (the lyrics for which come courtesy of ‘punk poet’ John Cooper Clarke), there are several typically Turner-esque turns of phrase that will have you wishing you’d thought of them first. My favourite comes on No. 1 Party Anthem – “Leather jacket, collar popped like Cantona” – although inexplicably the lyrics contained within the inlay card claims this as “popped like antenna”. I’m bloody convinced I’m right – it makes so much more sense that way…
If I had a criticism, I’d say that AM’s pacing suffers a bit across the middle; tracks 6 and 7 are both slower numbers, which, while not automatically a bad thing, seemed a bit jarring with after the brash opening. Having had the CD for just under a week now, I tend to find myself using the skip button on these songs more than any other, although it’s entirely feasible that I just prefer faster songs.
It says much about the growth of the band that each of their – to date – 5 studio albums each have such a different feel to them. It’s not something you see as much as you’d think; once bands find the ‘right’ sound, they will often stick with that, perhaps fearing that a change of direction will see their fans desert them. The Arctic Monkeys seem to take a different approach, doing pretty much what the hell they like and not particularly caring if you decide to hang around to enjoy the ride. Fans of the band will invariably have a preference for one record or the other (probably based on when you first ‘discovered’ the band), but I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of this one is still on your playlists in a few years’ time, whereas only one or two tracks from other albums will feature.