Before Arctic Monkeys return from their long hiatus, Jake Oliver goes back in time to look at where it all began
When Arctic Monkeys first burst on to the scene way back in 2006, nobody could’ve predicted the influence they would have on British music. Now, 12 years later, with European tour dates being announced and a new record on the way, it’s time to go back and re-examine why their first album is still to this day so brilliant.
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is very much the soundtrack to teenage life during the early 2000s and indeed today. It’s an album that in itself manages to charter the chaos of a night out on the town, an integral part of those formative years. The rolling drums and slashing guitar introduction to ‘The View From The Afternoon’ capture that excitement which confronts anyone getting ready to go out. It’s a great setup of relentless energy from all members of the band that never seems to take a break.
Even when it does, there’s a persistent sense of coolness that manages to compensate for the slower pace. Turner’s bittersweet charm when confronted with a moody girlfriend on ‘Mardy Bum’ still squeezes in a bit of power towards the end, and whilst ‘Riot Van’ may be my choice for the weakest song on the album, the nonchalant nature of being caught by police does just enough to keep me hooked.
The cohesiveness of the group is really what allows them to flourish. The blistering guitar work from Jamie Cook, original bassist Andy Nicholson, and Turner himself, with Nick O’Malley on drums, is reminiscent of classic garage rock and punk. There’s a grassroots feeling with Arctic Monkeys, who had already been working diligently since 2002 to get their name out there. Not since Oasis – dare I say it – had there been a band of this calibre making such massive movements in the industry.
Talking about getting drunk or getting into fights was nothing new in the genre at the time. In a way, Arctic Monkeys aren’t the most innovative and groundbreaking band everyone insists they are. That’s not to undermine their success or their ongoing legacy, but their debut didn’t exactly push any boundaries. Much like some of their contemporaries — like The Strokes, for example — Arctic Monkeys came out around the time of a rock revival of sorts.
What was pioneering about Arctic Monkeys, however, was how exactly they marketed themselves. From as early as 2002, the band were handing out demos and tracks to everyone and anyone. Using MySpace, both the band and fans could share and interact like never before; harnessing this DIY vibe was probably integral to their stratospheric rise to fame. Acting as trendsetters in this respect, this is a method that even today, bands have tried to emulate themselves with moderate success.
With such a tight sense of production and style, the final piece to the puzzle is Turner’s frank and honest lyricisms. Whatever relies not only on the musical talent of the band, but the observations Turner makes on his night-time (mis)adventures. The ongoing monologue of ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble” describing Turner’s rejection from a club has all the swagger and confidence you’d come to expect from a drunken lad.
Or how about the laughable “Get on your dancing shoes, you sexy little swine”, bearing all the cringe of every guy that’s ever tried to woo a girl with his words when pissed? His lyrical prowess is something that has persisted for the entirety of his career, a talent that Turner has perfected well.
There’s very much a timeless element to the album. Between its initial release and today, not much has changed in terms of clubbing or the experiences of adolescence. People are still awkwardly dancing, guys are still desperately trying to pull and bouncers are still jerks.
Whatever is an album that allows us to relive these moments at any point, without the inevitable hangover and instant regret that usually comes following a night out. Moreover, the album started a phenomenon that is still thriving to this day, and one that I very much doubt will ever die.
As Arctic Monkeys begin to make their long-awaited return to the world, I’d like to end with a quote from the man himself: “That rock’n’roll. It just won’t go away”.