(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, August 14, 2009

CD review - Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006)

This is another older disc that heavy in my rotation. On the surface, it's another one of my "snotty boys with guitars" bands, but Arctic Monkeys don't quite fit that mold. This is a band that burst on the scene back in 2005/2006, carried on word of mouth and internet hype. They got so much attention that I ignored them in knee-jerk fashion. That lasted until I accidentally heard one of their songs and was sucked in. Not being a fanboy, I was oblivious to all of the controversy over their award show appearances and anti-Industry attitude. I just enjoyed the music.

Whatever People Say I Am... is full of danceable thrash, a polished punk/new wave sound with slick vocal production (but a hell of an accent). Running through the songs is a Morissey/Smiths' style crossed with Adam Ant (and a dusting of Duran Duran). The vocals and melodies evoke the Morissey vibe, but the Adam Ant thing is all coming from the heavy drum and bass sound coupled with shards of guitar accents. Thematically, these are observational songs about the club scene and low life in Sheffield England. Taken as a whole, this disk is full of self-similar songs that form a continuity, but it stays sufficiently interesting that I keep coming back to it. One thing that makes it work is that the songs often have multiple sections that change up the music rhythmically and dynamically. Additionally, the chord changes aren't relying on a standard rock progression. They also throw in small elements of ska and other styles to break things up a bit.

The smash single was I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor, which starts out with a chunky guitar sound like the Clash, but quickly drives into a reworking of Middle of the Road by the Pretenders. Arctic Monkeys share a love of '60s style like the Kinks with Chrissie Hynde, which explains the sound. The club song drives hard with catchy lyrics and foot tapping rhythm:
I bet that you look good on the dancefloor
I don't know if you're looking for romance or
I don't know what you're looking for
Lots of pop culture references from Romeo and Juliet to Duran Duran. The vocal delivery is a little detached with an undercurrent of desperation. Pure ear candy.

Riot Van hits the other side of Arctic Monkeys. It's a slower, thoughtful observational song. The lyrics have the ring of personal experience in hassling the police for sport. Jaded lyrics and a tired delivery suggests Morissey. It's a mellow, spare arrangement that ends unexpectedly. This feel is echoed again later in the start of When the Sun Goes Down, which runs down a street life with prostitutes and Johns with the same world weary mood.

Adam Ant comes through in songs like Dancing Shoes, Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured, and A Certain Romance. The throbbing bass and drums and muted guitar strums sound like Adam Ant's Stand and Deliver. Of these, A Certain Romance stands out because of the juxtaposition of stylistic bits: the club beat at the start, the thrashy follow through that breaks into a music box guitar riff, and the cool ska sound of the verses melding into the straight beat of the chorus. All with evocative lyrics that flesh out the whole club scene they were immersed in.

Slam a pint or two of lager and prepare to hit the clubs. When you get home, Whatever People Say I Am... will be the soundtrack for your memory of the evening.

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