Truly alternative, truly special and truly unpredictable
Jason Gregory

22:23 23rd April 2007

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2007 was always going to be the year of the second coming, with the likes of Bloc Party, Arcade Fire and Maximo Park all releasing their sophomore albums after inspiration seeking sabbaticals. It would be safe to say, however, that the Arctic Monkeys weren’t expected to be part of this 2007 rebirth. You see, whereas the aforementioned bands were all products of a pulsating 2004/5 era, the Monkey's - who released their influential debut 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not’ in January 2006 –are still an altogether, much more recent phenomenon.

Whilst they’ve not been around for long however, it’s been long enough for us to realise that the Arctic Monkeys aren’t just an average band. It’s about now – just a little over twelve months since their debut was released - that Alex Turner and co should still be buried in some underground studio struggling to find inspiration for their second album, whilst coming to terms with the impact that their seminal debut left on our musical and cultural landscape. True to form, however, they’ve tossed aside all that impact on our landscape talk, ignored any pressures from critics and fans and, oh yeah, already made their second effort, ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare.’ So much for second album syndrome then.

The signs of a quick second album turnaround have always been there though. Firstly, there were the EP’s crammed with new material which seemed to arrive before ‘Whatever People…’ had even sold its millionth copy. Secondly, there was the relentless touring through 2005 and most of 2006, which ended, if not literally, but spiritually at last years Reading Festival where Turner, in particular, looked overcome by his sing-a-long disciples – all united by the Monkeys kitchen sink urban hymns. Then, a sudden silence came as they retreated into reflection. And so the obvious questions began - have this band of 20 and 21-year olds already reached their peak? Can they handle the pressure of fame? Do they even want it? Well, whilst ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ answers all of those questions, it tackles the latter most emphatically, with a South Yorkshire pitched, monosyllabic …Yes.

Unsurprisingly, the album's first single, ‘Brianstorm’ - which evokes an image (and the sound) of a thousand Knights of Cydonia charging into battle - is also the album's igniting track. Here, the now trademark Arctic Monkeys funk guitar stabs merge flawlessly with a relentless drumbeat and filtered bass line, whilst Turner paints a lyrical image of Brian – a character the band encountered while on tour in Japan. “Some want to kiss some want to kick you, there's not a net you couldn't slip through,” sprawls Turner, who – despite his obvious media shyness – proves throughout the album that he hasn’t lost his panache for lyrical observance.

Indeed, if anything, he’s more on the ball than ever. Capable of bringing the over-inflated ego back down to earth: “Who wants to be men of the people, when there’s people like you?” (‘Teddy Picker’), and, exposing those who hide under a mask of mysterious intent: “The confidence is the Balaclava, I’m sure you’ll baffle them good” (‘Balaclava’). Both of which, musically, are pushed along by a new, bass driven backdrop – testament to the trusted arrival of the more energetic, Nick O’Malley.

Besides the input from a new member, what makes ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ such an intriguing listen, is that it’s clearly been made by a band still in transition. Whilst all the trademark ‘Monkeyisms’ still exist, ‘The Bad Thing,’ for example, rattles along to the sound of an intense and crudely catchy Jamie Cook guitar riff, there’s a distinctly new, more emotive element creeping into this band. It starts with, ‘Fluorescent Adolescent,’ which contains all the charm of your last dance at your school prom up until the moment you stand on your dates dress and twist her ankle. Similarly, the ballad, ‘Only Ones Who Know,’ provides yet another, more obvious glance at the future as the bands jazz chords echo dreamily, as Turner utters his most touching lyrics to date, “They’ve made it far to easy to believe, that true romance can’t be achieved, these days.”

This new direction has certainly been influenced by the production touch of James Ford (Simian Mobile Disco, Klaxons) who gives the record a more focused, electronic direction. ‘Old Yellow Bricks,’ for instance, omits all the buzzing bass and beats of a ‘new-rave’ anthem while synths swirl during its hypnotic breakdowns, whilst the towering psychedelic rhythms of albums closer, ‘505’ is the Arctic Monkeys like you’ve never imagined them before. Truly alternative, truly special and truly unpredictable.

Whereas, when ‘Whatever People…’ drew to a close, it left you wanting more, ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare,’ leaves a more poignant question. Just where will this band go next? Whilst it’s an ambiguous position to be left in, you know that you won’t want to miss the opportunity to find out the answer.

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