Two years ago, when I first heard the Arctic Monkeys, the weight of their media hype was too much. How could a band become an overnight sensation in Britain just off the strength of some demos that leaked to the net? Hearing a few tracks off their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, I’m Not, I thought: the title says it perfectly. Expecting to hear a band worthy of instant success, I instead heard an overexcited pop punk band hurrying through songs with eighteen different riffs and maybe one good hook.
Fast forward two years later. The Monkeys have had minor success in the states, but they’re still basically a UK buzz band. And judging by the sound and attitude of their sophomore album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, that’s what they’re going to remain. Cagey, paranoid, and pessimistic, Favourite Worst Nightmare is the sound of a band firmly entrenched in the working class world they came from.
On the album’s first track, Brianstorm, frontman Alex Turner skewers a bored bedhopper, who gets “top marks for not tryin.” The song’s double-time beat is perfect for the marathon of venom Turner spits about his protagonist, as if the sheer speed and brittleness of the song might slice the poor bastard right in half.
The second song, Teddy Picker, might contain Turner’s best line yet: “Who’d want to be a man of the people/ When there are people like you.” Like Brianstorm, Teddy Picker is all attack, literally and figuratively. With a jagged, bouncy riff behind him, Turner takes it to rock critics (“When did your list replace the twist and turn?” “Sorry sunshine, it doesn‚t exist/It wasn’t in the top 100 list”) and fickle fans (“Not quick enough, can I have it quicker?/ Already thick and you’re getting thicker”). To UK ears, this might sound a little nervy, considering how critics and fans alike have made the Monkeys pop stars there, but for us stateside, the bitter attitude is a welcome refresher from the likes of oversexed r & b stars and American Idol rejects.
The album’s first four songs have a bite and an energy to them that’s reminiscent of the first album, but by the fifth track, Fluorescent Adolescent, the band takes a more tuneful, Kinks-ian turn, detailing the sad decay of a party girl turned middle age sexpot. While the sad sexual exploits of the middle-aged are far from an original conceit (see: most of Blur’s The Great Escape and a decent amount of Pulp’s back catalog), the song is catchy enough to make you forgive its unoriginality. Only Ones Who Know is even more of a departure for the band, a ballad about lovers on holiday that Turner hopes are “holding hands by New Year’s Eve.” But while the song’s lyrics seem hopeful, the music, a slow waltz of reverbed guitars and high, lonely single notes, has a sad resignation to it.
The album’s best track by far is Do Me a Favour. Powered by robust bass line, the song builds tension with perfectly placed guitar swipes that hint at the whirlwind to come. A tale of a break up, the lyrics capture the emotions of a couple that can’t stand the way their relationship has fallen apart so quickly and without explanation. In lines that go a long way in explaining Turner’s pessimism, he repeats the coda “Curiosity becomes a heavy load/Too heavy to hold, makes you cold.”
Sadly, the album loses steam after this. This House is a Circus is energetic, but it lacks a strong melody and strikes out with lyrics that compare twenty somethings searching for fulfillment in life to “searching for clues to a murder in a dead man’s eyes.” If You Were There, Beware also suffers from melodramatic lyrics, but as a piece of music contains enough tension, in form of jagged riffs and Turner’s paranoid delivery, to eventually grow on you.
Overall, I’m recommending Favourite Worst Nightmare for the simple fact that it has an urgency to it that most mainstream rock nowadays lacks. While the Monkeys sounded a little bratty on their debut album, this album proves that underneath their sniping and snideness lies real loss and pain.
TrackList: Brianstorm, Teddy Picker, D is For Dangerous, Balaclava, Fluorescent Adolescent, Only Ones Who Know, Do Me a Favour, This House is a Circus, If You Were There, Beware, The Bad Thing, Old Yellow Bricks, 505.
– Daniel Krow