Album : Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not by Arctic Monkeys
Review : NME, 12 January 2006
Author : Tim Jonze
It’s hardly surprising that the first words to tumble out of Alex Turner’s mouth on this record are “Anticipation has a habit to set you up/For disappointment”. I mean, can you imagine how it feels to be in Arctic Monkeys right now? Great, obviously, seeing as they’ve filled the gutter-rock gap left behind by the imploding Libertines, gatecrashed the proper pop charts with their debut single and been declared Our Generation’s Most Important Band™. But you’ve kinda got to feel for them. They’ve only released one proper single and the world awaits excitedly for the greatest album since God plugged in his Fender and started jamming with Joe Strummer. What’s more, these boys have got an instant handicap. Loads of us have already heard half these tracks from the internet demos which helped build their fanbase. The tidier production here fails to add any more life to those snarling versions (although any more life and they’d have escaped from the case and gone joyriding around Shire Green)
But that’s enough doom-mongering. After a while the hype and expectation is going to fade away and, when it does, all you can really judge Arctic Monkeys on is their haircuts. Sorry, I meant their music. And even if you’ve been fortunate enough to live with these tracks over the last year or so, they still sound more vital, more likely to make you form your own band than anything else out there.
Essentially this is a stripped-down, punk rock record with every touchstone of Great British Music covered: The Britishness of The Kinks, the melodic nous of The Beatles, the sneer of Sex Pistols, the wit of The Smiths, the groove of The Stone Roses, the anthems of Oasis, the clatter of The Libertines…
Of course, the Monkeys actually spent their teens listening to hip-hop. But where that really shows is in the lyrics and the frenetic pace at which Alex hurls them out of his gob. He’s a master of observation. Unlike, say, Morrissey or Jarvis, he doesn’t use his eye-spying skills to strike a blow for the freaks and misfits of this world. And that’s exactly why they work so well. They’re songs for everyone – from the shy romantic whose hopeless with the opposite sex, to the guy who’d still take you home, even though he “can’t see through your fake tan” (‘Still Take You Home’).
What Turner does have in common with Mozza and Jarvis is that he’s a funny little fucker. And his humour is so easy to identify with, that mere observation serves him more than adequately. Forget the flowery fantasies conjured up by Dickensian Doherty – these are tales of the scum-ridden streets as they are in 2006, not 1906.
So you get the tongue-tied tart in ‘Dancing Shoes’, the bored band-watcher in ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’ and the guy whose girl’s got the hump in ‘Mardy Bum’ – all sung with a voice so authentic it could land the lead role in the Hovis ads. This record’s heart lies in Yorkshire, and it’s usually down the local Ritzy disco, getting the cold shoulder off the bird it fancies and ending up in a scrap by the taxi rank outside. It couldn’t be any more Saturday night unless it woke up, bleary-eyed, next to a 16-stone munter with herpes.
The knock-out punch is saved for the finale, though. And when it comes, it smacks you three times. Just to make sure, like. ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ is the sound of the streets long after the Ritzy has kicked out for the night, ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ is a three-minute blast that dares to take on that most grotesque of creatures (nightclub bouncers, not Kerry Katona). The clincher, though, is ‘A Certain Romance’. As perfect a pop song as you could ever hope to hear, it rivals even The Streets in its portrayal of small-town England, a place where “there’s only music so that there’s new ringtones”. Alex’s message is compact yet delivered with dazzling poetic flair: “All of that’s what the point is not/The point’s that there ain’t no romance around here”.
By the time it finishes, you don’t feel sorry for Arctic Monkeys any more. They might have been swamped in more hype than Shayne Ward ballroom-dancing across the set of I’m A Celebrity… but all of that’s what the point is not. The point’s that there ain’t no disappointment around here.
JC adds : It’s an astoundingly brilliant and confident debut, and an incredibly mature record from a bunch of lads who weren’t yet out of their teens. The scariest thing for me is that the album is now 14 years old…..and I still think of the band as being new kids on the block.