Thursday, April 26, 2007

Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare

Download: Arctic Monkeys - "Brianstorm"
Download: Arctic Monkeys - "Do Me A Favour"
Download: Arctic Monkeys - "Fluorescent Adolescent" (Live at Melkweg 2007)

Arctic Monkeys
Favourite Worst Nightmare (Domino, 2007)
Grade: B

With their first album, the Mercury-prize winning, hyped to the heavens, fastest-selling UK debut album of all time, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not , the Arctic Monkeys came off like a tribute band who actually learned a thing or two from the band that they tried to emulate. In this case, the band being emulated is the Buzzcocks. Like the Buzzcocks, the Arctic Monkeys wrote snarky little poppy and punky (but not pop-punk, thank Regis) about the travails of English youth seeking the almighty Good Time.

But now the lads are older, if not necessairly wiser, and they find themselves in the unenviable position of recording a follow-up to a record which caused magazines like New Musical Express to declare the Arctic Monkeys the New Musical Emmanuels. It's no surprise that Favourite Worst Nightmare is more mature than its predecessor. What is surprising though is how much more mature it is, musically speaking, and how in other places, the Monkeys become even more snarky and the bratty than they were on Whatever .

The result is a record that is more varied and rewarding than the first one, but still has some faults - namely, the too-clever-for-their-own-good lyrics. Though its the best song on the album, the combination of "Flourescent" and "Adolescent" should make you want to vomit in terror.

The album begins with its weakest tracks, four rock songs that all sound like some weird, and probably unintended, combination of "Gel" by Collective Soul and any theme to a 60s-era tv show about espianoge. "Brianstorm" (grrrr! stupid puns) is tight and snappy, without a doubt, but its pummeling drums and minor-key riffing fail to distinguish themselves from any of the best tracks off of Whatever . Ditto for "Teddy Picker," "D is For Dangerous" and "Balaclava." Though these songs all have individual virtues, the good parts of those songs (danceable beats, catchy riffs) do not necessairly add up to a satisfying sum.

However, what these songs do prove is that singer Alex Turner has a second life as a crooner/lounge singer if he so chooses it. That laid-back, introspective quality proves itself to be the band's strongest asset when the band takes its sonic depatures - namely on "Flourescent Adolescent," "Only Ones Who Know" and, especially, "Do Me A Favour."

That last song is the best song on Favourite Worst Nightmare , and, time permitting, maybe the best song Arctic Monkeys have written. It's certainly the best song they've done in terms of lyrics. The song's refrain - "Do me a Favour/and tell me to go away/Do me a favour/and stop asking me questions" - is either a portrait of a devestating break-up or an insight into the psychology of a band dealing with instant fame.

Meanwhile, "Flourescent Adolescent" sounds like a hybrid between girl-group pop and the bleary-eyed still-drunk-at-3am rock of the first two Strokes records - it basically is the soundtrack to the calm, fatalistic regret one has after a hot and heavy night out on the town. "Only Ones Who Know" is also a surprisingly stark ballad which does a solid job relating the fact that the Monkeys are maturing musically.

After that peak, the album plateaus with more songs with meat-and-potatoes riffs that start to sound the same after a while, but still are eminently listenable. Overall, Favourite Worst Nightmare is like a party with participants who still want to continue the celebration, but also realize that the night will soon come to an end, and that it's time to wind things down a bit and reflect on the night's events. It may not be time to go home, but we can't stay at the party either. Fortunately, the Arctic Monkeys recognized that fact as well, and have made an decent album which many will blast before, and after, they themselves get blasted.

(Jonathan Graef)

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