Thought your sweet summer internship at [insert big company name here] was a sweet gig? What if you had the headlining spot at summer rock festivals and a number-one album?
There aren’t many bands our age that have reached this level of success. In fact, the only one around today that has is Arctic Monkeys. When the band’s first album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not hit stores last January, it sold 360,000 copies in its first week, making it the fastest-selling debut in UK history. The album painted a bleak image of growing up in urban England, taking stabs at the abysmal state of pop culture with dicey lines like, “There’s only music so that there’s new ringtones.” When released, the four band members — lead singer and guitarist Alex Turner, guitarist Jamie Cook, drummer Matt Helders, and bassist Andy Nicholson — were all under 21. Last Tuesday, a year after the success of Whatever, the band released Favourite Worst Nightmare, the infinitely hyped follow-up record.
Twenty-one is a weird age to be a rock star, and Arctic Monkeys is learning that the hard way. If Whatever was a youthful surge against the dementia of modern times, Favourite Worst Nightmare is surprisingly more introspective. It’s a tough balance to try and lay down: Should the group go for a “mature-sounding” second album, or embrace the fact that its members are still, in the grand scheme of the music industry, youngsters?
The group wrestles with this balance from the opening notes of the record. “Brianstorm,” the first single and track from Nightmare, is wrought with the same dance-y, triplet-charged guitar riffs that put spunk behind Whatever’s first single, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” It is lyrically just as nasty and socially conscious, with lines like “We can’t take our eyes off the T-shirts and ties combination.” Are we on our way to a fresh new sound for the group? Probably not: “See you later, innovator,” lead singer Turner mocks. In a fit of ADD self-consciousness comes “Flourescent Adolescent” only several tracks later. Despite the catchy guitar riff that dominates the song, the track has more of a southern rock feel than it does dance-pop. “The best you ever had is just a memory,” Turner cries with a nostalgic air. There will never be another Whatever People Say, and he knows it.
Although much of the new record fluctuates between these two polarities — the old guard of grimy dance-rock and a relaxed, more mature vibe — songs like “Do Me A Favour” and “Old Yellow Bricks” seem to strike the equilibrium that the Arctic Monkeys might be searching for. The songs are still aggressive, with edgy guitar riffs and ass-kicking drum tracks, but have backed off from the recklessness of the band’s first record. And even though this “common ground” might seem like a plus — as if the band is finally finding a more accessible style — the music is more watered down. No riff matches the catchiness of Whatever’s “Fake Tales of San Francisco.” No melody has the rude-boy grit of “Dancing Shoes.” In short, nothing on the new record is quite as interesting... or daring.
It’s really tough to be hard on Arctic Monkeys. The band is selling out shows worldwide, and its members are the same age as many Carnegie Mellon students. Then again, maybe we were all hoping for the brilliant melting pot of songwriting and balls-out energy that the group found on Whatever. There are some good things on Favourite Worst Nightmare, but the band’s juvenile fearlessness isn’t one of them.