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Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not

Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not

Arctic Monkeys

Domino Records / 2006

James Ketchell

The hype in the UK press has been incessant for the last six months. 2006 will be the year of the Arctic Monkeys. These young lads from Sheffield in the North of England have already had inches and inches of column space devoted to them in both the music and mainstream press, including full page articles on the Arctic Monkeys phenomenon in some of the broadsheet papers. Having listened to the album almost incessantly on repeat over the last few days, I can confirm that all of this hype is, for once, completely justified.

Arctic Monkeys have been around for a couple of years now. They handed out free copied CDs of their songs at the end of their gigs to generate interest locally. Fast forward a few months and these songs were being swapped on the internet message boards of the Libertines and the Others. Quickly an albums worth of songs were being swapped and talked about over the net, as Britain’s rock-youth turned their eyes north to the unfashionable town of Sheffield and the Arctic Monkeys. The Arctic Monkeys had become a mini underground movement, with record labels falling over each other to sign this band who were playing to sold out audiences who knew every word to their songs, despite nothing being officially released.

Late 2005 and the press have latched onto the Arctic Monkeys. Their debut single, “I Bet you look Good on the Dancefloor” went straight into no1 despite no real promotional push by their record company. The Arctic Monkeys also sold out London Astoria, in their first gig in the capital with ticket touts are reported to have been selling tickets in excess of £200. Internet fever had translated into single sales, sold out gigs and a no1 – something which no other British rock band had ever done. I cannot even think of the last rock song that went to no1 in the music charts.

The real issue is why have Britain’s press and music youth gone berserk over the Arctic Monkeys? Their songs are an eclectic mix of the funky rock of Franz Ferdinand, the anthemic choruses of Oasis and the lyrical sophistication of the Streets. Added to the mix is their obvious northern humour and the fact that the singer refuses to tone down his accent. Bringing all of this together seems to create a new, different sound – despite the fact that it is far from being completely original in a purely musical sense. The foundations have been laid for the Arctic Monkeys to become Britain’s biggest rock group since the heyday of Britpop in the 1990s. Whatever people say I am, That’s what I’m not is their claim to the crown last worn by Oasis when they played Knebworth.

“The view from the Afternoon” is a ‘new’ song (in the sense that it did not previously circulate as an MP3 on the internet). It is also the most rocking track on the album with a great central riff and chorus and an interesting mini-reprise at the end of the song. This song should work well in the live context. “I Bet you look Good on the Dancefloor” has become an indie-club favourite. The simple rock tune is unbelievably catchy and has lost non of it qualities in the few months since its release as a single. This simple song about teenage lust for a girl should help thousands of rock-kids meet in clubs up and down the country.

“Fake Tales of San Francisco” is perhaps the best song on the album, at least it is the most interesting lyrically. It includes these gems of northern humour:

Yeah but his bird thinks it’s amazing, though
So all that’s left
Is the proof that love’s not only blind but deaf”

and
“And yeah, I’d love to tell you all my problem
You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham”

I’m not entirely sure what the song is about however, it could be construed as being an attack on bands who think they are cool when they are just rubbish, bands from England singing in American accents and the bands that they left behind who are “Weekend rockstars“.

“Dancing Shoes” is another gem which should be come a floorfiller along the lines of ‘I Bet you look Good on the Dancefloor’. The Arctic Monkeys have obviously learnt from the Franz Ferdinand school of thought in making music with guitars that girls can dance to. “You probably Couldn’t see for the Lights but You were looking straight at Me” is another clever dig at their new found fame and the hoards of hangers on that now attach themselves to a famous band. However, the band also acknowledges their role in playing up ‘to the cameras’, so to speak, and acting like rock and roll stars. A very mature and insightful sentiment from a group so young.

“From the Ritz to the Rubble” is a tale with central theme a night out in a non-descript town. Tales of bouncers refusing entry to the club and other tales of debauchery, binge drinking and girls. This song also acknowledges the hangover the day after. “Still take you Home” is about a woman and proves that the members of the band have abused their position as potential rockstars to get their rocks off.

Well its ever so funny
‘Cos I don’t think you’re special
I don’t think you’re cool
You’re just probably alreeight
But under those lights you look beautiful
And I’m struggling, I can’t see through your fake tan
Yeah and you know it for a fact that everyone’s eating out of your hands
But what do you know ?
You know nothing
But I’d still take you home”

“Riot Van” is a slow lament to teenage kicks, teenage drinking and games with the police. For much of the Arctic Monkey’s target demographic it is likely to remind them of the night before. For me, it is a reminder of simpler, less complicated times. “Reds light Indicates Doors are Secure” is another tale (indeed, I chose my words wisely: these tales could be seen as modern, dark fairy tales of disaffected youth culture) with a catchy, shouty chorus. It is likely to be a big live hit. “Mardy Bum” is another star track. A brilliant song about women:

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“Now then Mardy Bum
I see your frown
And it’s like looking down the barrel of a gun
And it goes off
And out come all these words
Oh there’s a very pleasant side to you
A side I much prefer
It’s one that laughs and jokes around
Remember cuddles in the kitchen
Yeah, to get things off the ground
And it was up, up and away
Oh, but it’s right hard to remember
That on a day like today when you’re all argumentative
And you’ve got the face on”

‘Perhaps Vampires is a bit strong, but..” is another dark track. Is it aimed at their fans, journalists, the industry, other bands? Who knows. It is also the most interesting musically with a bongo rhythm breaking out which comes as a surprise, after hearing the previous songs. Their new single, “When the Sun Goes Down” is about a girl of the night and her “scummy” client. This could be viewed as the quintessential Arctic Monkey’s song. Social commentary, dark dodgy characters, killer guitar riffs and catchy chorus all add up to create a song that will be great long after the Arctic Monkey’s hype inevitably dies down.

The album ends with “A Certain Romance” that was previously widely circulated on the internet. In many ways it presents the background to the Arctic Monkeys; the world that they live in, the northern city, their young friends who wear “classic Reeboks, knackered converse, or tracky bottoms tucked in socks” It represents a snapshot of what it is like being a youth in today’s society and includes some intelligent insights into this culture:

And over there there’s broken bones
There’s only music, so that there’s new ringtones
And it don’t take no Sherlock Holmes
To see it’s a little different around here”

All politicians who are far removed from the youth of today and who are dismissive of them should be made to listen to this track and to gain a real picture of what its like being a youth in the UK in 2006.

Ending with a ‘moshtastic’ outro the album comes to a close. As a whole the Arctic Monkeys have created an album which is intelligent, catchy and danceable. The youthfulness and insights offered by these songs offer something different to the mosaic of English rock music. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Arctic Monkeys is their youth. A young exciting band with intelligent rock lyrics, I feel that for the first time in a long time, a decent band has come along which would not feel out of place in the pages of Uncut or Mojo magazine. Perhaps it will be more difficult for the Arctic Monkeys to break it abroad due to their northern accents, English swear words and youth vocabulary. However, it is this Englishness which gives Arctic Monkeys their unique sound and why the Arctic Monkeys may finally take British rock music into the 21st century. In a world where “there’s only music, so that there’s new ringtones”, the Arctic Monkeys come as a breath of fresh air.

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