Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
"Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not because they don't know a bloody thing about me! God knows what I am." - Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)
So, here we have it. Finally, after more hype than I can remember being applied to any band, Arctic Monkeys release their debut album to an overly expectant world.
But, you know, it's a little more complicated than that. As anyone with even half an ear to the wireless knows, Arctic Monkeys made their name after free demos found their way onto the Internet and every Tom, Dick and Harry downloaded them and, in the main, loved them. The album has the mixed blessing of mainly featuring re-recordings of these early tracks, so there's whole new world of criticism just waiting to be used against them, in a way that most bands don't have to worry about.
"Yeah, the new single's great, but I prefer the demo - it's more 'raw'" is something you're bound to hear in many a discussion about the re-recorded songs, and to a certain extent it's a valid point. The original appeal of Arctic Monkeys lay in the no non-sense rawness and energy that burst forth from those early recordings. They are the songs that so many people fell in love with, so it's to be expected that when the album arrived, boasting far from carbon copies of the demos, people would lose some of the instant connection that they would have got if they were listening to them afresh.
But, you know, the album is the album and the demos are the demos â€“ just listen more to the versions you prefer the most. If you start comparing one to the other you're venturing into the realm of the pointless... So, that's why I've just spent the last 3 paragraphs addressing the point. Ah well.
What Ever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (or WPSIATWIN, as all the kids are already calling it) is basically a concept album, focusing mainly on the Saturday Night and Sunday Morning premise, addressing various issues that crop up in your bog standard evening out. In fact the first 9 tracks easily fall under this category with the final 4 focussing on various other, but equally specific, topics. I suppose a track by track analysis in order, then:
- 1. The View From the Afternoon - Truth be told, I found this to be a disappointing opener. As always the lyrics are entertaining, but the structure of the song and the quality of the riffs let it down considerably. The opening riff is simplistic to the point of tedium and the song itself just repeats itself for the second half. Bit of a shame, really, especially as it has been confirmed that this will be their third single.
Select quote: "You can pour your heart out around 3 o clock; When the 2 for 1s' undone the writers block".
- 2. I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor - An utter stormer of a track. This was the band's first proper single and it took a shock route straight to No1 in the charts, yet the band are on record as considering it "a bit crap". It's not. In fact, it's easily one of the best records on the album, despite having some of the weaker lyrics. It features riffs, drum beats and bass lines that can only be described as stonking.
Select quote: Oh there int' no love no, Montagueâ€™s or Capulets; Just banging tunes in DJ sets and; Dirty dancefloors and dreams of naughtiness".
- 3. Fake Tales of San Francisco - As an almost early comer to the Arctic Monkeys scene, this was the first track I ever heard - being as it was part of their first and only indipendant release Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys. It was arguably their signature tune for a long time before their appearance in the charts. A complete change of pace and half way through and the lack of any conventional structure helps keep it interesting and diverse.
Select quote: "But his bird thinks it's amazing, though; So all that's left; Is the proof that love's not only blind but deaf".
- 4. Dancing Shoes - Nicely simplistic song (musically, at least) but one of the weakest on the album. By this point the concept of the album does start to take shape with the theme of the song centering around early stages of a night out, after the pre-evening theme of the first two tracks on the album.
Select quote: "Oh and the shit, shock horror; You've seen your future bride; Oh, but it's oh so absurd; For you to say the first word; So you're waiting and waiting".
- 5. You Probably Couldn't See for the Lights, But You Were Staring Straight at Me - The best name for a song, ever? Got to be one of the longest, anyway. It's one of my favourite song on the album, probably because it wasn't previously released as a demo and so I've not heard it several thousand times already.
Select quote: "Everybody's trying to crack the jokes and that to make you smile; Those that claim that they're not showing off are drowning in denial".
- 6. Still Take You Home - Very similar in style to IBYLGOTDF and really boshes along at a hell of a pace, but it features much sharper lyrics. In fact, the lyrics here and probably joint best on the album, along with A Certain Romance.
Select quote: " I fancy you with a passion, you're a Topshop princess, a rockstar too; Youâ€™re a fad youâ€™re a fashion and Iâ€™m having a job trying to talk to you".
- 7. Riot Van - A drastic reduction in pace here, and despite having pretty decent lyrics (not great by the album's standard, though) this fell really flat, for me. I feel a stinking hypocrite saying this after my rant at the start of the review, but this was much MUCH better in it's demo form. Still, it's good to see a demo track changed like this, as despite my preference, I would rather that than a carbon copy.
Select quote: ""Have you been drinking son, you donâ€™t look old enough to meâ€; â€œIâ€™m sorry officer is there a certain age youâ€™re supposed to be?â€¦ cos nobody told meâ€.
- 8. Red Light Indicates Doors are Secured - Another brand new track (brand new in the sense that it's only airing has been at gigs, that is) and it's brilliant. It follows a conversation between friends, intercutting between their taxi ride home and reminiscing about the night they've just had, all set to a very funky track.
Select quote: "Drunken plots hatched to jump it, ask around are ya sure?; Went for it but the red light was showing; And the red light indicates doors are secured".
- 9. Mardy Bum - Never has there been a more obvious canditate for Single, and I'll happily eat my own cat if this doesn't get a release at some point. An insanely catchy riff along with funny and memorable lyrics all ensure this track will be one of Arctic Monkeys' defining songs - especially as a sequel, Do Me A Favour, which is written about the same sour faced ex has just been written, presumably for the second next album.
Select quote: Yeah I'm sorry I was late; Well I missed the train; And then the traffic was a state; And I can't be arsed to carry on in this debate; That reoccurs, oh when you say I don't care; Well of course I do, yeah I clearly do!".
- 10. Perhaps Vampires is a Bit Strong, But.. - (Their 2 dotted ellipsis, not mine). Probably one of the standout tracks on the album, mainly because it feels very different to the rest, both in style and content. It was written about the collective bullshit they've had to ensure from people who've surrounded them - from friends to various music rags â€“ all through their short careers.
Select quote: " I ant got no dollar signs in my eyes that might be a surprise but it's true; I'm not like you and I don't want your advice or your praise or to move in the ways you do; And I never will".
- 11. When The Sun Goes Down - The second single to be released from the album and finally proof that their debut at No.1 was no fluke. This song feels like a breath of fresh air compared to some of the indie releases out there at the moment. From the slow start, to the stonking middle, and finally slowing it down again for the outro; this song is pretty much pitch perfect. Oh, and the lyrics aren't half bad, either.
Select quote: "And I've seen him with girls of the night; And he told Roxanne to put on her red light; Itâ€™s all infected but he'll be alright; Cause he's a scumbag, don't you know".
- 12. From the Ritz To The Rubble - This song was originally part of the Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys release along with Fake Tales. Unfortunately this will never see the light of day as a single, as it would be far to close to a re-release for the band's comfort. As for the song, well, it's bloody wonderful. The opening feels a lot like Alex Turner is actually rapping (but, you know, in an indie way) and addresses the shady world of the bouncer, alternating between quiet but high paced and louder rocking moments. An oddly bouncy song for what is, after all, about the morning after the night before.
Select quote: "Last night these two bouncers; And one of em's alright; The other one's the scary one; His way or no way, totalitarian".
- 13. A Certain Romance - Always the set closer and, as it turned out, the album closer, too. A Certain Romance is a very different song to a lot of your standard Monkeys fare and sums up a great deal of the feelings and thoughts expressed over the last 12 songs. For me, the last song on the album simply must *feel* like the last song on the album. It should be at least 5 minutes long, with some contrasting music styles to break it up, and finish with a souring, feel good instrumental at the end. And A Certain Romance has all this. It's the perfect ending for what is a superb album.
Select quote: "Well oh they might wear classic Reeboks; Or knackered Converse; Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks; But all of that's what the point is not; The point's that there isnâ€™t no romance around there".
So, on to the packaging. I might be the only person in the world, but I absolutely hate cardboard digi-packs, and unfortunately this is how the album has been released. No matter how hard you look after the things they always get dog-eared and they don't even fit into many CD racks properly. What's more the 'Arctic Monkeys' sticker was actually fixed to the polythene surrounding the box, so when you removed it you had no sticker! Nothing a bit of careful peeling and re-sticking couldn't fix, though, but annoying non-the-less. The booklet inside is very nice and features a special picture for each of the first 12 songs on the album (leaving A Certain Romance, due to it's more general subject matter) - but it's massively disappointing that no lyrics were included, as they're one of the band's main draws.
But it's a great album. It really is. Excellent, in fact. And 350,000 people buying it in the first week can't be a bad sign, either. I just hope the ridiculous media hyperbole calms down a bit, because the backlash could well be neckbreaking.