CD: Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not


In a few weeks' time, it seems likely that When the Sun Goes Down, the third single by Arctic Monkeys, will follow its predecessor straight to number one. The teenage quartet have become fixed in the national conscience with such speed that it's hard to react to this prospect with more than a shrug. In the past six months, the media have parroted the tale of their rise to stardom so often that there can be hardly anyone who is unaware of its salient points. The only surprise was that it didn't turn up in the Queen's Christmas speech: "At this time of yarh, one's thoughts turn to the Commonwealth, and also to Arctic Monkeys, who cultivated a fanbase by making MP3s available on the internet, and before they had even released a proper single, managed to sell ite London's Astoria."

And yet, ignore the hype and the idea of When the Sun Goes Down topping the charts appears a deeply improbable scenario: the biggest-selling single in Britain might soon be a witty, poignant song about prostitution in the Neepsend district of Sheffield, sung in a broad south Yorkshire accent. You don't need to be an expert in pop history to realise that this is a remarkable state of affairs.

Their debut album suggests there is plenty more that is remarkable about Arctic Monkeys. In recent years, British rock has sought to be all-inclusive, cravenly appealing to the widest audience possible. Oasis started the trend, hooking mums and dads with familiar-sounding riffs and "classic" influences, but it has reached its apotheosis with Coldplay, who write lyrics that deal only in the vaguest generalities, as if anything too specific might alienate potential record buyers. Over the course of Whatever People Say ..., you can hear the generation gap opening up again: good news if you think rock music should be an iconoclastic, progressive force, rather than a branch of the light entertainment industry.

Alex Turner can write lyrics that induce a universal shudder of recognition: Britain's male population may grimace as one at the simmering domestic row depicted in Mardy Bum ("You're all argumentative, and you've got the face on"). For the most part, however, anyone over 30 who finds themselves reflected in Turner's stories of alcopop-fuelled punch-ups and drunken romantic lunges in indie clubs should consider turning the album off and having a long, quiet think about where their life is heading.

Meanwhile, Arctic Monkeys' sound is based entirely on music from the past five years. The laconic, distorted vocals bear the influence of the Strokes. The choppy punk-funk guitars have been filtered through Franz Ferdinand, the frantic rhythms and dashes of ska come via the Libertines. Turner's refusal to tone down his dialect probably wouldn't have happened without the Wearside-accented Futureheads. Thrillingly, their music doesn't sound apologetic for not knowing the intricacies of rock history, nor does it sound wistful for a rose-tinted past its makers were too young to experience. Instead, Arctic Monkeys bundle their influences together with such compelling urgency and snotty confidence that they sound like a kind of culmination: the band all the aforementioned bands have been leading up to.

You could argue that, musically, there's nothing genuinely new here. But you'd be hard-pushed to convince anyone that Whatever People Say ... is not possessed of a unique character, thanks to Turner, who comes equipped with a brave, unflinching eye for detail (in Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured, a taxi queue erupts into violence amid anti-Catholic invective), a spring-loaded wit (Fake Tales of San Francisco advises hipsters to "gerroff the bandwagon, put down the 'andbook") and a panoply of verbal tics that are, as he would put it, proper Yorkshire: the words "reet", "summat" and "'owt" have never appeared in such profusion outside of the Woolpack.

He's also capable of more than one-liners. A Certain Romance is an insightful, oddly moving dissection of the chav phenomenon. It keeps spitting bile at a culture where "there's only music so there's new ringtones", then retracting it a few lines later - "of course, it's all OK to carry on that way" - as if the narrator is torn between contempt and class solidarity. Eventually, the latter wins out: "Over there, there's friends of mine, what can I say, I've known them for a long time," he sings. "You just cannot get angry in the same way." It certainly beats guffawing at

At moments like that, Whatever People Say ... defies you not to join in the general excitement, but it's worth sounding a note of caution. We have been here before, a decade ago: critics and public united behind some cocky, working-class northern lads who seemed to tower effortlessly over their competition. The spectre of Oasis lurks around Arctic Monkeys, proof that even the most promising beginnings can turn into a dreary, reactionary bore. For now, however, they look and sound unstoppable.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Arctic Monkeys: Humbug | CD review

Arctic Monkeys have got a brave new California sound. Thankfully, they've kept their homegrown sense of humour

Alexis Petridis

20, Aug, 2009 @3:11 PM

Article image
DVD: Arctic Monkeys, Scummy Man

3 Stars (Domino)

Dave Simpson

13, Apr, 2006 @11:50 PM

Article image
CD: Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare


Alexis Petridis

20, Apr, 2007 @8:31 AM

Article image
Arctic Monkeys: Suck It and See – review

Arctic Monkeys have abandoned lurching darkness for wistful guitar pop. It suits them, writes Alexis Petridis

Alexis Petridis

02, Jun, 2011 @2:01 PM

Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

'I Bet You Look Good...' was no one-off, insists Sarah Boden, who is thrilled by these brash snippets of life in a northern town.

Sarah Boden

22, Jan, 2006 @12:40 AM

Click to download: Mar 9

Thanks to someone's mobile, Chris Salmon gets a sneaky preview of Arctic Monkeys' latest.

Chris Salmon

09, Mar, 2007 @11:39 PM

Article image
Albums of the decade No 3: Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

Inspired by kitchen-sink realism, the Sheffield band reimagined time-honoured tales of lairy lads for a new generation

Caspar Llewellyn Smith

27, Nov, 2009 @11:26 AM

Article image
Arctic Monkeys | Pop review

Sheffield Arena
A transitional time for the Monkeys sees what should be a triumphant homecoming become tinged with uncertainty, writes Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

16, Nov, 2009 @10:00 PM

Article image
Arctic Monkeys, Don Valley Bowl, Sheffield | review

Review: This is a celebration of great songs, performed in inimitable style, says Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

11, Jun, 2011 @12:26 AM

Arctic Monkeys, Birdwell Club, Barnsley

Birdwell Club, Barnsley

Dave Simpson

28, Jul, 2005 @10:59 AM