Lets look at it this way. Two years ago, my favourite album was a piano album by a dude pushing 40, about kids, loss and growing old. Last year, it was a record by guy 6 albums in, an adult pop record about maturity and love.
This year, my favourite record is by bunch of kids barely 21, rocking the fuck out. It’s a good example of how my life has changed in the last year.
But firstly, the record. So much better than the first, it is one of the best rock albums I’ve ever heard. This is the best band in the world on almost all the levels that matter to me. Let’s tear it apart.
Musicianship. Top notch. They remind me of Uncle Tupelo and Minor Threat, those bands I loved so much in the past. Early twenties working class kids who just PLAYED. Drummer Matt Helders can handle all the freaky changes, the math rock stuff, sudden stops and starts. For pure, grinding musicianship alone, they belong in the pantheon of bands like Fugazi, Minutemen and all. And the devil is in the details. The hint of a riff here, and pause there. Changing rhythms every chorus. Build ups. Slow downs. It is an absolute masterclass of musicianship. No band their age is even close to them in this field.
Songs. If it was just the playing, it would make them a great technical band. Which is great. I love bands like that. Like, the Grateful Dead. It’s all about the execution. But you will never catch the Arctic Monkeys bashing out a four chord rock thing. Stunning riffs. Great changes. I spend all my time listening to songs, and I cannot tell you where these compositions are going. Opener and first single Brianstorm opens with surf drums and fuzz guitar before cutting into the song proper. Then it ends and comes back with the intro for no reason. Well, the reason is because it’s a fucking cool bit.
And for the first time ever, they throw in a ballad, the Only Ones Who Know. And instead of Cast No Shadow, it’s this gorgeous, complicated thing. I can’t describe it. There’s a slide guitar on it but it’s not country. It’s not Beatley. It’s not Oasis-y. It’s Arctic Monkeys.
Tunes. Well sung too. There are a couple of difficult songs on here, but mainly, this is melodic rock. Some of it I find so irresistible. The group all yelling “We are defenders!!!” just takes my breath away. The million words a minute rapping of Fluorescent Adolescent is catchy, and a wonderful way of undermining the poppiest song on the record.
And finally, the lyrics. Gosh. Even if you were good players, with good songs, that weren’t a wank, to have one of the best lyricists I’ve ever heard writing your stuff…brilliant idea really. And I’m a big lyrics guy. And Alex Turner stands with the best of them. And it’s not just a wit and a clever line. The bigger ideas of this record is there too. Turner has made a record about all the outcasts, the wankers, the losers, the villains in his world.
The infidelity of the Bad Thing, the indie scenester in Brianstorm (“we can’t take our eyes off your t-shirt and tie combination”), the older girl who’s lost her youthful passion and sexual excitement (“is that a mecca dobber or a betting pencil?” – it’s a penis line. A betting pencil we all know, and a mecca dobber is that big fat thing you get at bingo)… all paints a picture of weirdos living in a weird world. Reality star wannabes, thugs in balaclavas…they all get their dues.
The sum is greater than it’s parts. And the sum, this record, is one I just kept going back to. I would look at the CD case, and it’s what I always want to think when I look at a CD case. In it is a record I love. A perfect record. And I just kept coming back to it. Every couple of weeks I had a new favourite song.
And it also helps that every interview I’ve read or seen with the band this year, they seem to holding themselves well. They are workers, not rock stars. They are not tabloid fodder like Razorlight. In fact, the one big gripe about this band is that they have no star power. They are boring in person. I LOVE that about them.
This record made me so excited this year. About new music. About guitar music. And even more importantly, it made me look out at the world. It’s probably the most important thing music can do. New to this country, I could see the indie wanker in Brianstorm. The ASBO tragics in Balaclava. The lonely hesitant lovers in The Only Ones Who Know.
It was also exciting to be here as this record ‘happened’. Like being in London for the last Harry Potter book, you could feel something in the air when this record came out, and destroyed all sales records. And to hear the songs on radio, on TV, posters around…this was happening now. And I’m usually so ambivalent to all that.
This is also the only record in 15 months that made me want to play music again.
And even the B-sides are great. The Bakery! Jamie T would kill for a song like that. So would Ray Davies.
So. Record of the year. By a long shot really. An album that has resurrected my interest in new young rock bands.
2008, don’t fucking let me down.