AS BANDS WITH Number 1 singles go, there’s something marvellously raw and untutored about Arctic Monkeys.
In an age when bands hire brand image consultants before they make their first demo, they seem so unpolished, unstyled and refreshingly uncalculated. You can see it in that uniquely crap band name (which a major label would have instantly changed to Serendipity or the Carvery) and those gloriously over-long song titles. You can hear it on this debut album in the way there’re echoes of the school band playing at the end of term assembly — in the slightly clumsy lead guitar and hollering backing vocals splattered across ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, and the unconventional chord progressions and slightly gawky rhythms of ‘The View From The Afternoon’ and (deep breath) ‘You Probably Couldn’t See For The Lights But You Were Looking Straight At Me’. It sounds like they’re breaking the pop songwriting rules because they never bothered learning them in the first place.
They’re canny enough, however, to ensure that the stabs of staccato punk-funk and knock-kneed ska never diminish the frantic punk pop energy and shout-along hooks that have built them such a formidable live following. They also don’t drown out the asset that is arguably Arctic Monkeys’ finest — Alex Turner’s brilliantly pithy barfly-on-the-wall lyrics. Plenty of British guitar bands write songs about small towns, sour relationships and bad nights on the booze, but they invariably deal in bludgeoned messages and crude generalisations, whereas with Arctic Monkeys, the devil is in the detail — as is the charm. The poetry may be closer to Pete than Percy Shelley, and there’s little drizzle-soaked Smithsian romance, but they still make Hillsborough and Hunter’s Bar sound like they belong on the map of British pop history as surely as Waterloo Sunsets and Rusholme Ruffians.
As well as a passing visual likeness, Turner shares Paul Weller’s sharp eye for home truths and common hypocrisies, and adds a tinder-dry humour to boot. “You can see in his eyes he’s got a driving ban,” observes ‘When The Sun Goes Down’. “There’s only music so there’s new ringtones,” claims ‘A Certain Romance’. There’s vulnerability too, in the weary resignation that infects ‘Riot Van”s tale of a police beating. Meanwhile, respect is due for employing the quintessential South Yorkshire phrase “mardy bum” for the first time in pop history.
Alex Turner reckons that by the time this record comes out, it’ll be cool not to like Arctic Monkeys. Fashion and hype be damned —this is thrilling, incontrovertible evidence of a major new talent in our midst.
© Johnny Sharp, MOJO, March 2006