|The View From The Afternoon||Whatever People Say I Am …|
|Fake Tales Of San Francisco||Whatever People Say I Am …|
|When The Sun Goes Down||Whatever People Say I Am …|
|A Certain Romance||Whatever People Say I Am …|
|Fluorescent Adolescent||Favourite Worst Nightmare|
|Only Ones Who Know||Favourite Worst Nightmare|
|Love Is A Laserquest||Suck It And See|
|That”s Where You’re Wrong||Suck It And See|
|No.1 Party Anthem||AM|
Contributor: Keith Shackleton
Who’s going to argue with me over this one? Maybe the Sheffielder who grew up with the Monkeys and disparages everything they’ve done since they stopped giving their music away (and thought that Milburn were a far better band anyway). How about the conspiracy theorist who reckons Dan Treacy from Television Personalities writes all their stuff and refuses to believe in the band? Or the teens who had their lives changed by Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not in 2005, liked half of Favourite Worst Nightmare and can’t quite understand where it all ‘went wrong’ for their favourite group? Or the white plastic sunglasses crowd who were never able to handle the impenetrable accents – “So, like, I dunno.. Mardy Bum, what IS that?” – and greeted the current smash AM with a mixture of elation and relief?
So where do I stand? Well, as you can see, I’ve taken more songs from the debut album than any other. Those pin-sharp narratives of northern nightlife still work for me, though a couple of tracks from “Whatever…” I can easily skip now due to overfamiliarity. I first saw the band in July 2006, by which time they’d already lost original bass player Andy Nicholson, but were still working the album internationally pre-Mercury Prize. I might have been the oldest guy in the room, but I loved the mania of it all, a set well under an hour thrashed out to adoring fans. I’d be the first one to complain if other bands were on and off so quickly, but it just seemed so right, a really notable event in the life of the people who attended. Star quality, that’s what they had, in spades.
I’ll pick opener The View From The Afternoon (Matt Helders’ great drumming to the fore), the snarky Fake Tales Of San Francisco, audience favourite When The Sun Goes Down and album closer and bona fide indie classic A Certain Romance for my ten. From this point on in the Monkeys’ career it would become obligatory to reference “Whatever…” in all reviews of their later albums.
Favourite Worst Nightmare came along pretty speedily after that. The rabble-rousing continues on a decent chunk of the record, but I’ll pick medium-pacer and nigh-on perfect indie pop song Fluorescent Adolescent for starters. Here’s where the Monkeys changed though, as they had to: if they’d knocked out a couple of “Whatever…” soundalike albums, they’d have got slated for going nowhere fast, just another landfill one trick pony, but Alex Turner fortunately had some other sophisticated ideas. Moody cinematic songs like 505 more than hinted at a new direction, and gems like the atmospheric tale of a failed relationship, Only Ones Who Know, showed the way forward. It would take them a good deal of time to work out both how to perform this new style and live up to the expectations of their fans, though the next set of theirs I saw, performed at Coachella 2007 in sweltering late afternoon heat, was an extremely entertaining mix of popular tunes from the debut and some newer barnstormers.
Turner obviously had more songs than he knew what to do with, and thought they wouldn’t fit the band. The Last Shadow Puppets side project with Miles Kane was a successful one, but by the time Humbug came along, it felt like the Arctic Monkeys had lost valuable momentum, and for me they fell between two production stools: Josh Homme’s desert songs vs. James Ford’s New York ones, and something was askew. I don’t think the band were totally comfortable with either at the time, though I must say that Cornerstone is a wonderful track, Turner’s queasy spurned stalker character is perhaps his least likeable persona, but this is a riveting tale. At a live festival show in 2009 I really had to try hard to enjoy what they were doing on stage and they sounded strangely subdued. Maybe just an off day, but I don’t think so.
From here on in, as we shall see, the ballads are the ones that float my boat. Suck It And See, with its attendant ‘big box store’ controversy (where the cover had to have a sticker over it, for fear that the unfortunate youth of America be corrupted by the album’s scandalous title) arrived a couple of years later, James Ford once again at the helm. Preceded by the Arctic Monkeys track at the bottom of my ten worst, none of the big singles struck an immediate chord. I struggled with the record, because no matter how much you dress Helders up in leather trousers, and let him traipse around swimming pools with supermodels, I still think he looks like he’d be more at home on the Kop at Hillsborough. Hell, they all do, the exception being Turner, with his slick 50s greaser guise. And yet … and yet …
I had to learn how to like Suck It And See, but that’s OK, I’m fine with it, the band were progressing and that’s a good thing, even if there’s an occasional faltering step along the way. I’m going to pick a couple of really strong songs from the closing stages of the album, which look back, not forward: the emotional Love Is A Laserquest and the lovely closer That’s Where You’re Wrong.
And since then, on to the current massive smash hit AM, things just kept getting bigger and bigger. Not necessarily better, mind you: I can’t see a tongue in a cheek in things like this, it just looks incongruous. Some of these new blockbusters leave me just a little bit cold and flat, but when Alex Turner really puts the pomp in his pompadour, wonderful things can still happen, and the centrepiece of the new album for me is a terrific piece of work, as good as anything they’ve ever done. Nope, I’m not opting for any of the singles, but hey, grab your girl at the end of the evening and you too can look good on the dancefloor, smooching to No.1 Party Anthem, before the moment’s gone.
They’re here in NZ in May. Maybe I should spring for tickets?