The band most recently deified by the English music press, the Arctic Monkeys—four very young Sheffield men—likely do not care about expectations, as you’d venture from their debut album’s title, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not: a neat little summary of hype and alienation. One must strike with the hype, but these Monkeys are getting down to some cagey redressing in the process: If you really want to like us, sort us out. Properly.
The comparisons, from fans and a&r types alike, have been myriad, as if the Monkeys can only be understood in reference to something else: Manics, Libertines, the heartbreak of Ray Davies’s busted-down Britannia dreams, and the Stone Roses, whom the Monkeys resemble in a fondness for the oxymoronical moniker. But this is a band that realizes grand dreams are in some measure predicated on maintaining a certain aloofness about those same ambitions. Disaffection leads to an odd, almost extra-musical perception: the outsider looking in and having more to say about any given scene than the scenesters themselves milling about.
Songs like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and “Fake Tales of San Francisco” have been Net-available for ages as demos because the band was savvy enough to leak them, escorting us into Stone Roses “She Bangs the Drums” territory: would-be anthems pitched to introspection rather than the yobo-sensibility of fists pumping in the air, though you can dance your ass off to this stuff. Alex Turner’s no vocal giant, and everyone’s bound to liken him to Jarvis Cocker—the wry observer signposting with his cleverly enunciated bits. But on tracks like “Mardy Bum,” Turner’s voice betrays a coy hedonism, an observer cracking himself up with the almost sad specificity of his observations. Lager chronicles, if you like. There are no gargantuan Oasis-isms here, and heed the prattle about “the band you’ve always been looking for” at your own risk. The Monkeys may sing about keeping everyone entertained, but come on—anyone who’s ever heard a classic debut album understands that’s got nothing to do with it. Tricksters.