By Mark Guarino
Thank you, Brits.
Starting with the Beatles, tastemakers in your massive music press have long been hyping bands to us Yanks. True, much of it has been empty fawning and for making us think Wham! or that second Franz Ferdinand album were the second coming, we’re still a little sore.
Yet you hyped many worthy bands to make up for the many bad. Sometimes we listened (Oasis, the Clash, Coldplay), and sadly, oftentimes we did not (Travis, Stone Roses, the La’s). You also pointed to our own backyards and took us to task for not initially paying attention to our kind, from Nirvana to the Strokes. It’s appreciated. See, we still listen to that old warhorse, commercial radio. And it’s spinning Nickelback.
Now you whisper in our ear about the Arctic Monkeys, a band you insist is the breakthrough band of 2006. We’re suspicious. Arctic Monkeys is perhaps the worst British band name since Snow Patrol. Yet the band’s debut album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” (Domino) became the fastest-selling debut album in British history, with 360,000 copies sold when it was released in your country in late January. Can 360,000 people be wrong?
Odds are yes from a country where another national treasure is Benny Hill. The Arctic Monkeys offer an energetic mix of punk disco and pop, but other than some standout songs, the band fails to make a case for separating itself from the rest of the pack at the same game.
“Whatever People…,” in U.S. stores starting today, is directed for the dancefloor except this version of clubland wouldn’t make room for Franz Ferdinand. There’s nothing self-consciously suave about lead singer Alex Turner, instead of crooning he spits out each syllable of his lyrics with working class agitation, his snarling brogue not smoothed over, but bluntly front and center.
He is joined by his fellow Monkeys, banding together to shout the choruses. The band is fully primed when they’re in this mode — just try getting the taunt “kick me out, kick me out!” out of your head (“Fake Tales of San Francisco”). Turner and fellow guitarist Jamie Cook trade insistent and jagged guitar lines left and right that keeps powering the dance funk. The band’s playful side translates to false song endings and goofball pop conventions (interjections of “whoa, whoa — da, da da’s in “Still Take You Home”) that keep the songs from growing old.
The band is angry, but what about? Club bouncers, nightlife phonies and their own hangers-on. “All you people are vampires, and all your stories are stale/and though you pretend you’ll stand by us, I know you’re sure that we’ll fail,” he tells them all. Even though their median age is 20, the Monkeys would seem to have something more pressing to get their Reeboks scuffed up over. Yet they’re empty of lyrical ideas, making the hyper activity sound like a retread of the Futureheads. Or Bloc Party. Or the Kaiser Chiefs. You Brits really like to dance, don’t you?