When a band like Arctic Monkeys comes along, all dirty, loud and English, surrounded by more buzz than a Smashing Pumpkins reunion, one can’t help but wonder if the buildup will overshadow the talent, or skill, or sub-par stage performance. After listening to Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’s first single, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” I could only hope the answer would be no. And with Tuesday’s release of what sounds like a raucous Libertines album, minus the cocaine and pretentious antics, Artic Monkeys just might avoid the all-too-inevitable post-hype fizzle.
To ease my critical mind, I must acknowledge that the Monkeys’ shtick is nothing altogether new. The slew of comparisons that have recently been made stands as a critic’s testament to that. Like any good European rock band this side of 2004, they’ve already been heralded as “the next” Franz Ferdinand – as well as the next Oasis and the next aforementioned Pete Dougherty-fronted music machine. But comparisons be damned, because Whatever People Say I Am proves its ability to stand on its own two feet a mere three tracks in as it catalogues, bemoans and ruminates on the artful practice of a night of hard partying.
By the time the twangy, bubbling guitar intro of “Dancing Shoes” explodes into a crunching onslaught of drum ‘n’ bass, the Monkeys are hurling around lyrics and riffs with the unfiltered bravado of a wrinkle-free Rolling Stones. Young vocalist Alex Turner – the quartet’s combined age sums up to less than that of my grandmother – possesses a combination voice that mixes a quintessential Brit-punk snarl with whine-infused cheekiness, making ditties about taxi cab rides (“Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secure”) all the more exhilarating: I’m sitting going backwards, and I didn’t want to leave / Its high green mate, via Hillsborough please.
Like so many failed ventures before it, Whatever People Say I Am tweaks and tests the boundaries of classical punk sentiments, fusing bleating lyricism with chaotic instrumentation and a pinch of distortion. But where Artic Monkeys differ from their predecessors is in the delivery – the arrangements are clean, yet deliciously crude and the concept is youthful pompousness at its finest. Well on their way to superstardom, Arctic Monkeys are already scheduling dates in the U.S. and plowing through U.K. sales records – God save the publicity agent.
[When Aly Comingore was born, she roundhouse-kicked the nurse’s face in.]