Fact: Denizens of the U.K. are completely inept at gauging the artistic merit of their pop groups. A band can't just be the Biggestit also has to be the Best. In America, we don't have this problem. Nickelback, though Canadian, is the biggest band in the States, and everyone knows they suck.
Which brings us to Arctic Monkeys' Favourite Worst Nightmare, the follow-up to last year's chart-splattering, word-count-shattering debut. For the Brits, Arctic Monkeys are the Greatest Rock Band of All Time Right Now, the latest in an esteemed lineage that includes the Beatles, the Clash, the Jam, Joy Division, the Smiths, Stone Roses, Blur, Oasis, and finally, [The New Band, a/k/a Futureheads, Bloc Party, Babyshambles, so on and so forth]. Do they ever remember that for every Oasis there's about a dozen Menswears and Bluetones and Sleepers? No, they do not.
So, Nightmare: A perfectly decent rock record. "This House Is a Circus" does in three minutes what Trainspotting did in two hours, as the band's trustworthy herky-jerky guitars underscore frontman Alex Turner's daft (ha!) observation that "We're forever unfulfilled/And can't think why/Like a search for murder clues/In a dead man's eyes." The basslines? Why yes, they do sound nicked (zing!) from the Jam. And those drums? He surely does drum fast and furious, like every Brit rock drummer before him. What this album isn't: All Mod Cons, Meat Is Murder, etc. What this album is, and should be perfectly comfortable with being: Supergrass' I Should Coco. There's nothing wrong with singing witty lyrics fast and loud; there's just nothing very special about it.
But since NME is practically insisting on it, let's compare these blokes to a truly great U.K. band: Blur, which followed up its hugely successful debut with 1993's Modern Life Is Rubbish, one of the best Britrock LPs of all time. Blur was a versatile band that could drop punk, disco, and all other kinds of weirdness into its sound, a band that could rule the dance floor, then step outside to examine a back alley or a country house. Arctic Monkeys have yet to show a smidgen of that kind of versatility. They're playing at being rock stars, and doing a helluva a job at it, but a band for the ages? Bollocks.
Arctic Monkeys play Hammerstein Ballroom May 15, livenation.com.
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