Posted by: Ciaran | November 29, 2009

Album of the decade: The Birth of Arctic Monkeys

In a change to the advertised schedule, today’s post is going to be music-related as I’m joining the debate on the album of the noughties.  Following the success of the sportsman of the decade blogs (Tom Victor’s post links out to all of them), we at CJS are now going to pour forth on the greatest contributions to the world music scene in the last 10 years…  Follow the debate by using this Twitter hashtag: #albumofthedecade, and vote on it here.

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

The album's mildly controversial artwork

“Anticipation has the habit to set you up / For disappointment…”  Has an album ever had a more portentous opening line?  Its bathos and casual self-deprecation show that Alex Turner and the gang knew they were under pressure to perform when they finally brought an LP to the table, but there is an arrogance to it too: they knew they’d just made the best album of the decade, and they wanted to have a bit of a laugh about it.

When Arctic Monkeys released their debut on Monday January 23, 2006, the atmosphere was incendiary.  They had been catapulted into the limelight since giving away free CDs at their early gigs which had then hit the internet at the tail end of 2004.

Fascination was rife with Alex’s grotty evocation of life as a young man in Sheffield: the grimy bars of Rotherham in ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’ are delightfully juxtaposed with the romance of New York, and the multivalent “lines” of the performers effortlessly debase the trendy image of musicians taking cocaine.

It all started, really, with ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’.  When it was released as a single in October 2005 and shot straight to the top of the charts the band became more than an internet phenomenon; they became a national obsession.  Young people could identify with their tales of boozy nights out and minor run-ins with bouncers (as in ‘From the Ritz to the Rubble’, about the legendary – and now defunct – Sheffield nightclub Kingdom).

The perspective of the lyricist is disconnected from his position; Turner is a young man about town but he shuns the boorish behaviour of those he sees “squaring up proper shouting” in ‘Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured’.  He chooses here to laugh at it but later, in closing track ‘A Certain Romance’, he adopts a weary acceptance: “They’ll never listen / Because their minds are made up”.

Arctic Monkeys on stage at Old Trafford County Cricket Ground, July 28, 2007

The realism of the album allied with Turner’s vernacular was perhaps what most piqued the public’s consciousness; “int”s and “summat”s pepper the album, but obviously ‘Mardy Bum’ made the most of this.  That track in particular shows how well they can do pathos as well as humour; the words resonate with that poignant desperation of a man at the end of his tether in his relationship.

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not has everything.  It draws on popular culture in much the same way as The Libertines did in their references to classic British comedies; the lines from ‘You Probably Couldn’t See For The Lights But You Were Staring Straight At Me’ which refer to Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (“So tense, never tenser / Could all go a bit Frank Spencer”) are not so esoteric as Doherty and Barat but are brilliantly humorous.

‘When The Sun Goes Down’ – which was probably even better in its original incarnation as ‘Scummy’ – is probably the most widely-known song from the album, and it still has revellers (particularly in Sheffield’s indie clubs, such as The Leadmill) bawling along in unison.  The snarling, grungey portrait of backstreet Sheffield cemented Turner’s position as one of the great social commentators of British music.

There are no weak spots, lyrically or musically, on this award-winning album.  Even Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, tried to jump on the relentless bandwagon of Arctic Monkeys love, though later had to admit he couldn’t name a single song from them.

Since then, it’s all gone a bit Frank Spencer for him…

The Others…

Titian –  Begin to Hope – by Fiona Roberts

Snow Patrol – Eyes Open – by Sarah Scott

At The Drive In – Relationship of Command – by Tom Victor

Sufjan Stevens – Come on Feel the Illinoise – by Alex Smith

Bloc Party – Silent Alarm – by Joe Curtis

The Libertines – Up the Bracket – by James Franklin

Brand New – The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me by Hugh Morris

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago by Ammelio

Daft Punk – Discovery by Will Gilgrass

The Killers – Hot Fussby Nick Moore

Kings of Leon – Only By the Night – by Caroline Cook

Bright Eyes – Digital Ash in a Digital Urn – by Emma Davies

Coldplay – Parachutes – by Dan Bloom

The Strokes – Is This It – by Alfie Tolhurst

Kings of Leon – Youth and Young Manhood – by Becky Rutt

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Responses

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  7. […] Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not – by Ciaran Jones […]

  8. […] This Pollpolling Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Album of the Decade: Hot FussAlbum of the decade: The Birth of Arctic MonkeysThe Noughties Were ShitData Skills […]

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  12. […] the Drive-In – Relationship of Command by Tom Victor Bloc Party – Silent Alarm by Joe Curtis Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am… by Ciaran Jones The Libertines – Up the Bracket by James Franklin Brand New – The Devil and God are Raging […]


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