On the playground of modern British rock ‘n’ roll, Arctic Monkeys are like that kid who mostly just mills around, not contributing much – to be fair, he’s a decent enough fella – while inexplicably hogging all the attention.
And if you were to pan across the grass, the jungle gym and the swing set, you’d see plenty of worthy rock bands doing their respective things. Bloc Party is standing up against the wall looking stylish. Franz Ferdinand is fraternizing with the ladies (and let’s be honest, a few of the guys). Art Brut is cracking a joke and simultaneously earning the respect of the jocks and the misfits. Hell, even the Kaiser Chiefs can be found doing kicks off to the side of it all, trying to impress anyone who’ll pay them a few minutes’ attention. Unfortunately, none of these bands sold 360,000 copies of their debut in the first week (a record in Britain), so it seems the hype train dropped them off at the wrong stop a while ago.
Meanwhile, the members of Arctic Monkeys stroll across the kickball field, laughing while they toss off hook-laden tracks such as “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” “Mardy Bum” and “Dancing Shoes.” Everyone starts tapping their feet. They don’t know what it is, but damned if it doesn’t sound fun.
“If we were drunk in a club right now, this music would be perfect background noise,” one child remarks to another.
“You’re right, but we’re not old enough to drink,” the other replies. “And if you keep talking like that, you’re going to ruin the conceit of this review.”
“Oh. Right. My bad.”
Of course, there are those who quickly denounce the band as just another fairly talented rock outfit, lost in a long lunch line of imitators and sound-alikes. But those troublemakers are quickly shuffled off to Principal Kelefa Sanneh’s office. After all, his New York Times article on the Monkeys said all sorts of hyperbolic things, from “one of the most exciting bands on the planet” to “if only the music weren’t so thrilling” to “sounded like a generation’s rallying cry. Maybe it is.”
Interesting, though, how so many grown adults who read those words and hurry to the record store end up sounding like one of the children on our metaphorical playground, awkwardly asking for something even though they themselves don’t even know what it is. “I’m sorry, ma’am, we don’t have the Chilly Chimps record you’re looking for. Yes, I know every conceivable press outlet in the states has written about it, but it’s not available yet. Come back next week.”
Which is not to say this is a bad record. Far from it, in fact. It’s not even polarizing, really. On “Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong But…,” frontman Alex Turner puts on an admirable snarl, and on “Riot Van,” his accent charms in a way Mike Skinner does on his best story-telling joints. Still, when the record’s not playing, it’s hard to miss it, and the tracks that aren’t standouts are simply boring. Horrible title or no, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, is truly a product of its own middle-of-the-roadity. We will rock you, but you’ll forget we existed in a few months.
Prefix interview: Arctic Monkeys