Ten years ago today, Arctic Monkeys released their début studio album: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Right from Nick O’Malley’s first commanding drum roll on The View From The Afternoon, to Jamie Cook’s climatic B Major barre chord on A Certain Romance, this album – start to finish – is nothing short of genius.
And whilst I wouldn’t dream of being melodramatic in saying that this album changed my life, I’d certainly go as far as saying that it is the album that changed my perspective on music, especially as a fresh-faced, innocent 11 year-old adolescent who chiefly listened to Jay-Z and 50 Cent.
This album came at a time when this mysterious phenomenon called the internet was at its height, and this is a large part of the reason why this little band from High Green in Sheffield were propelled into celebrity superstardom pretty much overnight.
In the span of six months, the Arctic Monkeys went from an unknown indie group playing half-empty pubs in Yorkshire, to Number 1 in the charts with the fastest selling début album by a band in the UK. Not since the rise of Oasis in the 90s has a band had such a profound influence on popular culture, forming such a poignant and powerful staple in representing working class Britain.
Long before the psychedelic prowess of Suck It And See and the foray into the heavier sounds of AM came this collection of songs. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is essentially an exploration through that oft-forgotten haze between pre-drinks on Saturday night and the tender, brain-numbingly painful hangover of early Sunday afternoon.
Stories of small town England’s Smirnoff Ice-induced punch ups, blurry-eyed romantic lounges and kitchen sink dramas all come together in this superbly written masterpiece of a record.
Their breakout record, and what was to become a cult classic, I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor is typical of the Arctic Monkey’s early sound: momentous drum fills, catchy riffs and cheeky tongue-in-cheek observations courtesy of Mr Mischievous himself, Alex Turner. “There ain’t no love, no Montagues or Capulets, just banging tunes and DJ sets and dirty dance floors and dreams of naughtiness” – his quintessentially Northern accent adding all the more to the band’s charm.
Turner’s broad south Yorkshire dialect, attentive eye and sharp-witted cracks come in full force on Still Take You Home:
“I don’t think you’re special, I don’t think you’re cool, you’re just probably alright but under these lights you look beautiful.”
The sheer cockiness throughout the album is extraordinary for an untested kid of 19 years old, however his lyrical style would go on to be a distinct feature of the band in the years to come.
As a self-professed superstar guitar hero, this album is a lesson in how to make some pretty ordinary chord arrangements and easy-to-pick-up riffs sound incredibly sophisticated. Whether I’m rocking out on my imaginary air guitar or strumming my actual one, this record makes it feel all the more possible that I might end up melting fifty thousand faces at Glastonbury one day – a feeling I share with many other avid listeners.
One song which showcases the band’s knack for writing superb material is the rousing When The Sun Goes Down, a tale of after-hours misery and scandal in Sheffield’s red light district. It paints a stark contrast between the seemingly innocent appearance of the city during the day and the dark prostitution trade of the city at night.
The opening and closing sections mimic the clean and bright nature of the town before sunset, however, the drastic, heavy and manic middle section is thought to reflect the more venomous nature of the area after dark.
The song exemplifies the band’s distinct take on songwriting and production: one listen and I’d be damned if you don’t find yourself air guitaring, air drumming and air bassing the shit out of it. A phenomenal record with punk energy and clever wit, this is the Arctic Monkeys at their outright best, and frankly, it is unbelievable.
The climax comes in the shape of A Certain Romance, probably one of the best songs they’ve ever recorded. Catchy, complex and expertly composed, it is a real testament to the band’s talent. The structure is incredible: harmonious riffs to begin with, tongue-in-cheek commentary throughout and an explosive outro which makes you feel as if you’ve fallen in love, or lost an old friend, or that you’re at the brink of death’s door watching your whole life flickering right before your eyes.
The madness winds down to the most gorgeously innocent climax I’ve ever heard, concluding an album which sits proudly in my collection as an all time classic.
The Arctic Monkeys have managed to distinguish themselves as something other than ‘just another guitar band’ over the years, and in hindsight it is remarkable that they didn’t fall by the wayside like some of their peers. Anyone remember HARD-Fi, The Automatic or Razorlight?
Nope, me neither.
From the attitude of The Sex Pistols, the poetry of The Smiths and the appeal of The Beatles, there isn’t a single characteristic of rock n roll they haven’t touched. Much how the Stone Roses have become associated as the sound of the 80s, Oasis in the 90s and The Strokes in the early 2000s, this album is very much a staple in popular culture as the sound of the mid-2000s and onwards.
For all the egotism and pompousness we know and love today, one thing’s for sure: Alex Turner is one of the best songwriters of our generation. And without sounding too much like NME, the Arctic Monkeys are one of, if not the, most important band we’ve had the pleasure of hearing in our generation.
I run out of superlatives when describing this album; their music is associated with so many poignant stages in my life and I think that’s probably true for a lot of other people too.
For that, I say thank you Arctic Monkeys; here’s to another decade of success.