|Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
Gotta love those Brits: They get their hands on a pretty good debut, and they act like it's the greatest album ever made. The homeland hype on the still-teenaged Arctic Monkeys is making the first buzz on Oasis and Coldplay sound like a whisper. Thanks to a grassroots/online fanbase, their first single, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," entered the charts at No. 1. The album followed suit and became the fastest-selling U.K. debut of all time.
Beneath the hype, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not remains a pretty good debut - and it certainly sounds better on the player than it does on paper. After all, I could note that it's derivative enough to make Kaiser Chiefs and Bloc Party seem original. What's more, a little of Alex Turner's heavily accented sneer goes a long way. (All 12 of the people who bought John Cooper Clarke's late-1970s albums will know exactly where Turner's vocal style comes from.) And yes, the singles (especially "Dancefloor," the only track that bothers to include backing vocals) easily outclass the rest of the disc. Still, that's what singles are for. And if the album as a whole is an energizing blast that sounds great now but may wear out after six months - well, that's what great pop music is for.
The John Cooper Clarke resemblance is no coincidence (Turner is friends with him), and the Monkeys carry England's recent obsession with the late 1970s to new heights. With its nonprogrammed, live-band sound, this is an album that Rough Trade or Fast Product could have released in 1979. The burst of Clash/Ramones guitars that opens the first track, "The View from the Afternoon," is something of a fakeout, since the band is more into twitchy, busy guitar leads and an upfront, dub-inspired rhythm section - think Comsat Angels or Public Image Ltd. And like their '70s brethren, the Monkeys have made a party album that barely cracks a smile. Nearly every song takes place in a nightclub, yet Turner has enough disdain for those he meets to fill 13 sets of lyrics.
But ... his cranky voice winds up oddly endearing, much as Clarke's did. And the band pounds these songs hard enough to turn them into something near-epic. Plus there are more musical smarts than you'd expect: Is that really a quote from Al Hirt's "Java" in the opening solo on "Still Take You Home"? Put it all together, add some killer hooks, and you've got the greatest album ever made - at least for this week.
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