100 for 2000 – #67. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2006 – #7. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
(Domino)

I was working at EMI Australia when this album came out, and they were already set to be the biggest band in the world. My natural instinct led me away from Arctic Monkeys. All the most horrible people I knew loved them. Fuckhead scenesters. So, when Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not came out, I got my promo copy, barely gave it a listen, and moved on.

Then they toured, and someone gave me a ticket to the show. I’m 100% sure I was going with a friend. Who that friend was I don’t remember – pipe up if it was you (I’m sorry I forget things). Anyway, I knew very few of the songs, but never, ever has the Enmore Theatre sounded better. In my mind, I heard the Buzzcocks, I heard the Replacements, I heard Black Flag, I heard Elvis Costello, I heard Billy Bragg. Whether these extremely young lads from Sheffield had heard of any of these artists was unknown to me.

So before I left Australia, I ripped the album onto the iPod, and got on a plane. That winter, end of ’06 leading into ’07, was owned by the Arctic Monkeys. It was like what I heard about the days of Oasis. It seemed like they had 6 songs on high rotation at the same time. All those brilliant singles, throw in Mardy Bum and the non album single Leave Before the Lights Come On.

So it seems silly I didn’t fall for these guys earlier. And it’s because I underestimated Alex Turner. I couldn’t imagine what a 20 year old could possibly tell me. As it turns out, quite a lot. Especially in London that first year, going out a lot, meeting a whole new level of bullshit scenesters, Turner and the Monkeys were the all important anchor to reality. Their working class, no bullshit attitude was a much needed elixir.

I keep coming back to bands like this. Is it my working class background? Or my desire to live a quiet, proud life. The thing Tony Soprano talks about all the time, the dignified male silence. But I’m always drawn to bands that shut up, roll their sleeves up and just do the work. It’s the DIY ethic – I’m sure I was one of thousands of people who looked at Uncle Tupelo and thought, that could be me.  The same kids looked at the ugly, scruffy, uncool guys in Arctic Monkeys and thought the same.

The musicianship is red hot. The riffs, the stop/starts, the speed… I’d like to see any other band that has appeared on the cover of the NME in this decade pull off one of these songs. And the arrangements are always fascinating – the guitar interplay that levels Television at their best. The sound is thick, it’s choking, and it’s intense.

But it comes down the the songs. Lyrics that everyone quotes – from aging rockers to young politicians. And having met quite a few could-be-big bands, to see a band so actively wanting to insult their audience was captivating. It’s like climbing a mountain, then spitting.

Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But… is a point perfect attack on those scenesters that leech off them now but will forget them tomorrow. But better still is Fake Tales Of San Francisco – a healthy fuck you to bands who care more about their name producers, their US tour dates, their image and drugs than songs. Ending with the anthemic, heroic rally cry of:

Get off the bandwagon!
Put down the handbook!

The live music scene is a heady scene, full of bullshit. Turner captures the darkness, and the magic. Fights with bouncers, girls who never talk to you, the darkened corners of the dancefloors. How did 20 year olds pull this off so magnificently.

Apart from those big singles, there are two songs that people talk about, list in magazines and get a great reaction live. For me, they are the two real masterpieces on this record, and this decade in music.

Mardy Bum – the lightest thing on here, and one of the very few songs in the career to flirt with real affection. But it’s the detail that paints these people as real. They miss buses, they laugh and joke around. And the line everyone talks about – remember cuddles in the kitchen – that is placed in the perfect part of the song. Every radio station in the UK playlisted this song anyway, even though it was never a single. You watch, as the years go by, this will be to Turner like ‘Yesterday‘ is to McCartney.

And finally, damningly – A Certain Romance. Musically, it’s extraordinary. From the opening teeth gnashing guitar thrashing, it slides into a sweet groove until it hits it’s reggae lite beat, and then goes for several more ups and downs before it ends. It’s the 00s Good Vibrations. And it’s Turner’s best lyric too. A damning dissection of small minded thuggery, of idiots, of people who like songs just so their’s new ringtones. As good a bullshit detection alarm as anything Dylan did in the 60s. And just when you think this us vs them anthem could go nowhere more, then comes that mindblowing last verse. Our narrator looks over at his friends, who do all the same things, and he regrets that he can’t seem to hate them in the same way. What a way to end a song, and an album.

Turner takes all his own accusations apart, and calls himself the hypocrite. It’s a contradiction in my life too. I general leave whenever people play the ‘remember when’ game, but I put up with it with my friends. I can’t get mad at them. They argue about stupid things, they should know better than to like basshunter, or support Howard… and you just can’t get angry in the same way.

This album made plenty of best of the decade lists, and I completely agree. A major work. I’ve evoked the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Dylan in this review. And for the 00s, they were the solution for all three of those artists. And most importantly, they were popular. They got to people who normally don’t have their lives changed by music. I’m there with them, hype be damned. And thank god, they actually got even cooler as the years went on.

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