The Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

The Arctic Monkeys
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to live in an egalitarian merit-based vacuum, there's no choice but to tussle with hype. Here you have the fastest-selling debut in the history of the U.K., a record floridly garnished with hosannas by everyone from Brit tabloid NME (who recently ranked it #5, over the Beatles' Revolver, in their list of "The 100 Greatest British Albums Ever") to the New York Times (Kelefah Sanneh: "You probably won't hear a better CD all year long"). Somewhere a Gallagher monobrow is being furrowed in frustration; somewhere a music-geek message board goes nova.

Problem: The Arctic Monkeys are no damned fun. They're bored adolescents (and if they're not having fun, why should anyone else?); ergo they play bored adolescent rock. Simple enough. It's not particularly worth griping about their musical qualities, inevitable a development as it is: the most self-parodic bits of mid-'90s Britpop (half-arsed Oasis vox!) fused with the most self-parodic bits of mid-'00s meta-post-punk (loutish 4/4 beats and cro-mag fumblings at Nile Rodgers guitar). I suppose you could say they're Franz Ferdinand's Rutles. More productive, then, to dwell on the lyrics, which portend the unholy specter of future niche "lad emo." It seems like yesterday that kids were under Thom Yorke's quivering thumb, empathizing with the idea that they, too, were vulnerable. Lead Artic Monkey Alex Turner knows who the creepy weirdos are and ain't afraid to point to everyone but himself. Touring a red light district in "When the Sun Goes Down," he sneers at a miserable John with all the nuance of Son of Sam: "What a scummy man/Just give him half a chance/I bet he'll rob you if he can." The "chavs" who rock hip-hop style ("Classic Reeboks/Or knackered Converse/Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks") fare little better in "A Certain Romance." "They'd probably like to throw a punch at me," he mopes in grand world's-only-victim style. Bouncers are judgmental bastards ("From the Ritz to the Rubble"); people will take advantage of you ("Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong But..."); sometimes you have to sleep with dumb girls ("Still Take You Home"); indie bands unfortunate enough to not be the Arctic Monkeys are shite ("Fake Tales of San Francisco"); film at 11:00. You won't hear a bitterer CD all year long.

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