MUSIC REVIEW | ***ENGLAND WEEK*** Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)


For the last year or so, Arctic Monkeys have been pretty unavoidable. The singles just seem to keep on coming from their 2013 album AM. And they keep on refusing to differentiate themselves from each other. That’s not a dig. Well, I guess it’s kind of a dig. All I’m saying is, the multiple hit singles from this album are all good enough, but if you took the lyrics away from R U Mine, Why’d You Only Call Me Your High?, or Arabella, I’m not sure I’d be able to tell them apart.

But before I knew them as the dudes who released the same single three or four times under different names over the last 12 months, I knew them as the dudes who completely redefined how a band can use the internet to conquer the world, leaving out the record label middle men. That’s what these snot nosed kids accomplished in 2006 with Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.

As on the nose and tamely rebellious as the album title may be, it sounds very appropriate as soon as the initial notes of The View From the Afternoon are fired off in their jagged, machine gun way. Then, like now, Arctic Monkeys want us to feel every, individual beat.

Next up is the only song I could have named off the top of my head before AM. I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor holds up all these years later. Its energy is as immediate and impossible to ignore as it was then. It’s got a punk rock vibe to it, but with the kind of twist only English kids of the mid oughts could bring.

Actually, I’d say it more than holds up, I’d say it’s improved with age. I’m sure I wrote it off as a one hit wonder’s one hit eight years ago. But hearing it now, it sounds like a band who already had a pretty good idea of what they wanted to do, and who would only get better the more they did it. Maybe I could blame my one close mindedness in 2006 for this change in opinion, but I’d rather somehow stretch the explanation far enough that it shifts the blame away from me. And if that means turning it into praise for Arctic Monkeys, half their luck.

Riot Van is an interesting departure. Quiet, slow and a little vulnerable, it shows range. But by the time it popped up, I was so in the groove of what I was starting to see as the signature Arctic Monkeys sound, that it was more of distraction and inconvenient detour, than impressive display of versatility. Luckily, Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured doubles down on that signature sound and it sucked me tight back in.

Then comes Mardy Bum, a much better execution of what Riot Van unsuccessfully attempts. It’s different in a lot of ways, with its lighter touch. But it also sounds like it’s a coherent part of this album. Not just a B-side that was promoted to album status to mix things up a bit.

That jagged, machine gun approach referred to earlier is a constant for most of Whatever People Say, and it reminds me of another British band who broke through a only a few years earlier. It’s almost like Arctic Monkeys are Franz Ferdinand’s younger, brattier, more pissed off brothers. And like Franz, I resisted for a long time. But the more I listen, the more I get it.

Arctic Monkeys

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