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.
2007 – #3. Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worse Nightmare
One year after they broke all records and changed the face of British music, blah blah blah, Arctic Monkeys released Favourite Worse Nightmare in no time. It’s faster, it’s tougher, more cynical and even more brilliant than their debut.
I came late to their first record (by a few months but that’s a lifetime for this band!) so by the time I was catching up, a new song hit the radio – Brainstorm. (Oh yeah there was the non album single Leave Before the Lights Come On was the best thing they did up to that point). Brianstorm was something new – heavy, but groovy. Kind of a surf guitar influence. And lyrically a bit more oblique. The kitchen sink poet from Sheffield was moving on. It was like Dylan abandoning protest music.
It’s not about teenagers anymore. As Alex Turner said in an interview, he had now seen the world thanks to touring, and that informed his writing. His stories were coming from all over. Brianstorm is about a Japanese scenester (in a t-shirt and tie combination). Cheating husbands (The Bad Thing), TV celebrities (Teddy Picker), aging princesses (Fluorescent Adolescent) and street thugs (Balaclava) all play arole in this world, where people have it hard and are acting crazy.
Musically, these guys are on fire. The stop/starts, the arrangements, the riffs – it all harkens back to 80s hardcore and underground stuff. I wonder if these guys have heard the jagged songs of bands like Minutemen? There is honestly very few bands I can think of that can play this hard and fast and accurately. And the few that do – they aren’t blessed with a songwriter that has the power of Alex Turner.
As we can see in hindsight that the band abandoned this sound as soon as the record was done, this could be their masterpiece. Turning away from teenaged (and somewhat naive) concerns of their first album, they throw everything they’ve learnt into this. Teddy Picker is a great example. Named after those arcade parlour crane machines, it compares TV celebrity to that random selection device. Throw in riff that reversed back on itself a few time, and huge sing-along bit, a scattered and impossible to sing outro and fuck it, why not, a Duran Duran lift as well. At 2:43, it’s everything great about this band.
Even the over familiar has things to hide. The big hit – Fluorescent Adolescent – is full of details. Notice how the arrangement of the chorus changed every time (the second time is, essentially, backwards). And the great line – is that a mecca dobber or a betting pencil? Took me ages to discover a mecca dobber is that stamping thing used at bingo, and the whole thing is a penis comment.
All the tight, taut, frustrated songs are once again, balanced out by a couple of lighter moments. The Only Ones Who Know hinted at Turner’s next move. But here, it remains a gorgeous, lonely ballad about two young strangers having nothing but eachother. Finally, 505, still a set ender, and for these cynical, mechanical misfits, it’s surprisingly direct and tender.
I’ve said it before, but Arctic Monkeys take the place in my heart once held by Uncle Tupelo. The shut-up-and-play-better attitude. The social commentary of young, broken, hero-less men. Both bands have such dedicated fanbases and can never hope to live up to the hype. But there is always a kind of kid (mostly boy) that needs this music. Not like. Needs. And as the years go on, the music will speak for itself.