Bring on the Backlash

Flinging poo at the haters with the Arctic Monkeys

The Monkeys don't trade in such sweeping musical statements or lyrical generalities. They wax beerily poetic about the mundane details of provincial ennui, the lack of romance to life in a second- or third-tier English city in the British Rust Belt, a town equivalent to Cleveland, Pittsburgh or Buffalo here.

"Red Lights Indicate Doors Are Secure" is full on-poignant to those accustomed to riding big black cabs to and fro their nights on the town, but downright mystifying to Yanks who drive themselves or ride trains or subways. And then there's "When the Sun Goes Down," a touching, near-documentary sketch of prostitution in Northern England. There, almost everybody from the middle class on down – and certainly most British Monkeys fans -- personally knows somebody who is or has been "on the game," as they say. In places like Sheffield, there are scant few jobs for poor and uneducated women, and not many massage parlors, tanning salons and/or strip clubs, so many more women are forced into full-on streetwalking, and thus subject to the curb-crawling "scummy man" with the "driving ban, amongst some other offenses" of the song.

My wife is from Preston, a northern English city much like Sheffield. I lived over there for a couple of years, so I saw these things first-hand. But what of the general American public? Sure, prostitution's prostitution, so we can relate on that level, but most Americans view streetwalkers as some horrific, crack-addled other viewed mainly on Cops, not the mousy girl from their algebra class gone astray.

These days, most British children's TV shows are dubbed with American accents and shorn of all British slang, and the Harry Potter series is likewise edited for Yanks. "That is a bit of a risk," Helders says. "We're not trying to isolate anybody, but we're not gonna adjust what we do so other people can understand it easier. And it doesn't really take that much, you can kinda relate wherever you're from I think. Even if whatever you think about it might be a completely different perception to us, as long as you're getting something from it, I don't mind.

"It's not like we're singing and we want people to know exactly what we live through," he continues. "We want people to listen to it and take summat from it to where they live – whether they've done it, or something similar to it, or are just interested in it. We always say we listen to rap, but I have no idea what it's like, really, to live in Compton. I just find it interesting to listen to rap music. 'Cause we're tellin' people about our lives, like the rappers are, but we're not tellin' people that they should live their lives like us. We're not preachy."


The Arctic Monkeys play Roseland Ballroom Wednesday night with We Are Scientists. $25, 6:30. roselandballroom.com

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