Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Perhaps saviours is a bit strong but...

...we like the Arctic Monkeys.

Yeah, strange thing to say out of context, but we were reading another blog entry, we forget which, over the weekend which was also exploring the idea that here in 2006 a person who likes music might actually like this hugely written about act and - gasp! - not be ashamed of it. We're fairly sure someone in the comments box described the post as "brave". Of course, this is endemic of that kind of self-regarding cynicism/criticism that the Internet, especially the Albion-endemic bits of it, thrive upon - you know they don't hate it as much as they tell you, but it's Conor McNicholas, dammit! We note with dispassion, for example, that Stylus has this week given the album exactly the sort of review you'd expect Stylus to give it, almost word for word. Perhaps it was to win a bet.

So yes, they are a hyped band. Funny, isn't it, how hype by association is always used to refer to These Animal Men, Menswe@r and Gay Dad rather than the Manics (Melody Maker and Sounds covers before the first single), Oasis (first demo on Radio 1 playlist) or the Strokes, perhaps the band the Monkeys' rise most mirrors in that they made something of a splash among those close to the epicentre early but the press didn't really pick up on them until their limited edition first single, at which they went stratospheric. One of the great joys has been watching journalists caught on the hop trying to categorise how the rise by People Using The Internet happened. Reading back, it runs something like: Sheffield gig goers, and by extension bloggers, get excited, band runs off a few demos to sell at gigs, some bloke called The Sherrif sticks mp3s of demos on his local band website (here he is explaning himself on 8th January 2005, with reference to singing along), link to Beneath the Boardwalk goes around bits of the blogosphere, word of mouth develops, band get some money together to self-press 1500 singles (Five Minutes With...), NME goes mad. In those news pieces which show their video on a mock iPod screen or laptop running WMP you're guaranteed a reference to how fans found out about them on MySpace, a site that didn't even have an official band presence at the end of 2005. As Alex Turner has said, in that case why isn't every band with web presence being hyped to the skies?

So no, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not - quick tip for other bands, never a comma in the album title - won't be leading our albums list at the end of the year. But yes, it is actually any good. They have an energy allied with an awareness that comes from being big music fans themselves and at least a semi-melodic touch that puts them well ahead of a great swathe of northern chancers of the day (stand up, Harrisons; run along now, Bromhead's Jacket), and Turner's lyrics, while not fitting exactly into the glib comparisons with Morrissey (less driven by absorption) and Jarvis (positively anaemic by comparison) do follow a peculiarly Northern route of kitchen sink melodramas and Alan Bennett and, although they won't thank us for this one, Graham Fellowes' incarnations as Jilted John and John Shuttleworth, wryly observant and feeling endearment rather than blitheness towards its surroundings, taking the local and personal and making it seem universal. It's a very English sound but not flag-wavingly overbearingly so, wirier than Oasis' breezeblock riffage but more pop than post-punk. Of course it's not an album for romantics and it's time someone came out and said that the production made a mess of I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor. Hear the live video version and then the recorded one, as we initially did, and hear a song being played through a mattress. Maybe that's what writers actually mean when they float the idea that they've delivered power of journalistic hype into the hands of the fans - after years of smart alec journos doing much the same, they allow mere mortals to draw themselves up to their full height and declare the demos were better.

On the other hand, witness the forging of a sound that plays Jam to the post-punk revivalists' Gangs Of Four (Andy Nicholson's bass remains their secret weapon), Riot Van's love song to underage drinking and their standout song A Certain Romance, which starts with a musical switch comparable to Take Me Out and delivers a kind of round-up of all the themes we've just heard in which 'romance' serves as a synonym for the idea of local youth just getting along surrendered to the apparent obligation to split into small groups and make a nuisance of themselves, at a stroke ruining that idea about kids causing trouble because they have nothing to do. Perceptive stuff from a 19 year old lyricist, although if you're 15 and want it to be about hating chavs, you can read it that way if you so desire. And if you still don't see it, think about this - with the Franz Ferdinand millions Lawrence Bell has not only been able to keep Domino's coterie of relative curios going and open a US branch but also licensed back catalogue cherrypickings of Orange Juice, Neutral Milk Hotel, the Magnetic Fields and the Television Personalities.

Talent borrows, genius steals. Whatever People Say I Am... suggests but doesn't exactly do either, but still manages to create its own singularity. And sod it, if they do become the mid-00s Birdland their sales suggest they won't comfortably slot into by this time next decade, we've got a get-out clause but we'll stand by the idea that this meant something for the here and now.


deleteasappropriate said...

Heh, the demos weren't better though! (apart from Mardy Bum)
Agreed on the live version superiority of I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor but in that case the demo sounds like its being played through about five mattresses.

Thanks for a really well thought out piece and a chronology which makes more sense than any other I've seen so far. And it does rather play into the NME's hands when however early or late they jump on a bandwagon they just need to start praising a band for them to be widely dismissed as their creation.

Ian Snappish said...

Interesting to discover that the AM's accepted rise to fame is about as true as Alan McGee 'discovering' Oasis in Glasgow.

As I said a few days ago, I don't hate them as much as the dreaded Kaiser Chiefs, but from what I've heard (admittedly, only the two singles, though I guess I should give some of the tracks you're talking about a chance), I can't see why they're going to beat the Hear'Say record, instead of, say, Bloc Party. Although I have been amused by the press jumping through hoops to skip over the fact that both the Spice Girls and Hear'Say sold more records than Definitely Maybe, because they really, really want to compare them to Oasis :).

Ant said...

Yes yes yes.. that live version of Dancefloor on the video is way way better.

My problem with the album as a whole is how conservative it sounds. Same drum sound for the entire thing. No light and shade. Shame, because many of the songs are superb, lyrically in particular.

Here's hoping their far-less-popular second album sees a bit more experimentation.

Chris Brown said...

Everyone seems to have forgotten that The Fighting Cocks were signed from the Internet in about 1998, and we known where that got them.

The Monkeys? Well they're OK aren't they, but the trouble is that we live in a world that likes to push extreme reactions.

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