LondonNet Music Guide

Arctic Monkeys

Album Review
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
Domino Records

23 January, 2006

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So Titled Revolution
Arctic Monkey's debut album is provocative for Sheffield, but perhaps not for the rest of the world...

Arctic Monkeys The newest in a long line groups anointed "the next Oasis" - destined to change the musical universe - by the British press, the Arctic Monkeys have gone from struggling to selling, and selling a lot, in well under a year's time. Their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, sold almost 120,000 copies in the UK the day it was released, thanks in no small way to the unprecedented online hype it has received. The album's first two singles have each topped the UK pop charts.

But, the difference between Arctic Monkeys and the crotch-kickers before them (Blur, Radiohead, the Hives) is simple, but crucial: those past bands legitimately hit us by surprise. Their styles were all so new, so different, that they forced us to stop and take notice. Now, many are trying to reverse the process: if you stop and take notice, maybe something good, even great, can become something revolutionary.

This is certainly a bittersweet wrap for a band to be greeted with. What I Am Not is a very good album. It's full of short stories of club life, getting in trouble with local cops, and generally being proud of life in working-class northern England - all told with an element of pride. Songs like Fake Tales Of San Francisco unapologetically lash out at people that yearn to have more attractive backgrounds than life in non-London England: ("You're not from New York City, you're from Rotherham / So get off the bandwagon, and put down the handbook").

But "very good", in the end, is not good enough to change the musical world. Musically, What I Am Not offers little more than the standard fuzzy-guitar driven alternative rock that has dominated the British since Blur and friends brought it mainstream in the mid-90s. Granted, it is very good fuzzy-guitar alternative rock. But revolutions aren't triggered by redux.

Lyrically, the album does bring something exceptional and fresh. These songs almost all act as snippets of the goings on of club and pub hopping. It's not that there's no time for deeper thought - it's that there's plenty to think about at the bar over a beer. A couple pints and fags never fail to inspire singer Alex Turner. In fact, getting the beer often makes the profundity come easier: "You can pour your heart out around 3 o'clock / when the 2 for 1's undone the writer's block."

It's a shame, really, that critics and listeners are putting Arctic Monkeys in a role they're not meant to play. It's not a fault or even a shortcoming of the band that their style does not change the way of things; it's not intended to. Throughout the album, Turner makes clear that he finds no attraction in abandoning where he has come from. If going out, getting drunk, getting girls, and getting trouble has worked in the past, then why change it?

Arctic Monkeys have made a remarkable album that works to say: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. To this band, alternative rock, like rebellious life in Sheffield, is just fine as-is. So, rather than wasting time trying, they celebrate the good in what's already here, and do so very well. They might not hesitate to give you a kick to the crotch at the pub, but don't look for them to give one to the music world.

Patrick Allegri

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