Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Arctic Monkeys -- Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
Domino Records; 2006

The tale of the Arctic Monkeys' smash success is one that may elicit bitter epithets and flushed faces from veteran underground rockers. This four-pack of working class post-teens from Sheffield, England signed with Domino Records in 2004, only a year after picking up guitars for the first time. A year later, their rambunctious single "I Bet That You Look Good On the Dancefloor" tackled the UK singles charts, debuting at No. 1. And if Joe Indie Rocker hasn't already blown steam out his ears, here's the kicker: This January the band's debut record, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, sold 118,501 copies on the first day. It went on to sell more copies in its first week than any other debut record in UK history.

But fanatic consumerism doesn’t always mean a group is talented, right? After all, people still buy P.O.D. albums in droves. Thankfully, this isn't the case for the oddly-named Arctic Monkeys. Full of youthful vigor and whatever lager is cheap, the group makes taut rock and roll fit for dancing or whatever debauchery is clever at the moment. Mouthpiece and lead guitarist Alex Turner yowls his lines with an expert's sense of timing and a hoarse set of pipes. Backing his spiny guitar leads is guitarist Jamie Cook, who fills out melodies with steady rhythmic swipes. Behind the kit is Matt Helders, a drummer who propels the band into action and keeps it in check with the beat of his popping snare and thumped toms. Bassist Andy Nicholson is a decent time-keeper as well, but his duties mean rarely deviating from the guitar lines he follows.

Arctic Monkeys first announced its presence with the slightly witty "I Bet That You Look Good On the Dancefloor," a tune that’s fun and catchy, but barely alludes to the potential shown on Whatever. There's the bawdy bum rush of “Still Take You Home,” angular dance number "Fake Tales of San Francisco" and the brusque, hipster-slaying "Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But...." The group can do more than bash out chords, too, as slow-burners like "Mardy Bum," "A Certain Romance" and the languid "Riot Van" inform us. "From the Ritz To the Rubble" is easily Arctic Monkey’s greatest achievement -- a blistering song best used to incite mutiny or vent teenage angst.

And this is a subject the band is more than familiar with, having only exited their teens about 30 seconds ago. Turner, the group's lyricist, is fantastic at capturing the ennui brewing in all young folks with no money to spend and nothing to do. His lyrics call to mind master wordsmith Morrissey if he were growing up in 2006, significantly less depressed and craving the female form. In "View From the Afternoon" he considers the perils of drunken e-mailing ("You can pour your heart out around 3 o' clock / When the 2 for 1's undone the writers block"). Turner loves jabbing back at scenesters on songs like "Fake Tales" ("You're not from New York City, you're from Rotherham / So get off the bandwagon, and put down the handbook.") and "Perhaps Vampires"("All you people are vampires / All your stories are stale / Though you pretend to stand by us / Though you're certain we'll fail.")

When not scrapping with bouncers or discussing his night at the pub, Turner often has some form of romance on his mind. Sometimes he settles for what's available ("Still Take You Home"); sometimes he's singing his most enticing come-ons ("Dancing Shoes"). He even lowers his cards and shows his tender side on the pleading "Mardy Bum," trying to convince his better half to stick around. Turner's wordplay is concrete and arresting, much like a friend relaying his past three months in the form of an album. For his first record -- and even if this was his fifth -- Turner shows a great deal of promise as a writer.

However, Whatever is not without its flaws. Being the Arctic Monkeys’ first full-length foray, the group shows promise and room for improvement. Besides the absurd title, "You Probably Couldn't See For the Lights, But You Were Staring Straight At Me," is incredibly amateurish and skip-worthy. The combination of massive power chords and little backbeat portions on "The View From the Afternoon" is disjointed and cumbersome. A few tracks (like "I Bet" and "Still Take You Home") are unnervingly similar in style. Nothing major; these are the earmarks of a band still coming into its own.

Right now, the Arctic Monkeys have the distinction of being bigger than The Beatles in the UK (sales-wise, at least). It's difficult to say if they'll have even remotely the same impact on this side of the pond. Considering how fickle and unpredictable America has been in the past for British bands, they might end up pulling a T. Rex and maintain only a cult status. But the possibility for a full-scale takeover is there. They're capable enough to write the catchy, hook-laden track ready to lodge itself in America’s ears. Even if they don't, Arctic Monkeys have made a surprising and solid debut with Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. I hope their contrary nature won't disagree with me.

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