Time sure does go by fast. Would you believe me if I said Arctic Monkeys‘ debut album was released 10 years ago?
In 2006, the English rockers released Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Following a long line of legendary acts to come out of England, it appeared Arctic Monkeys had big shoes to fill. Once upon a time, the British press labeled them “The Generation’s Most Important Band.” 10 years later that has proven to be a bit of an exaggerated title; however, the album managed to break the record for the fastest-selling debut LP in British history, a record that is still held today. Alex Turner and company didn’t need to become rock idols, nor did they need to climb the ranks among the all-time British rock legends. Instead Arctic Monkeys have slowly become a band that fans can trust, creating a five-album discography of lyrical, matured work that has expanded upon their first album’s hype and intoxicated mayhem.
Arctic Monkeys are one of those bands I refused to listen to for the longest time. I thought their sound was over-saturated and generic just like most bands at that time. It seemed to be the same riffs, the same songs and the same story from each and every band. Bands like The Black Keys, Mumford & Sons and Kings of Leon seemed flat. I didn’t feel any true depth behind these bands and their sound couldn’t have been more washed out. I always thought Arctic Monkeys fell into this same category of hipster rock. It took a long time, but I realized Arctic Monkeys provided much more. The songwriting, the adaptability, and the all-around craft felt genuine. The band possesses an infectious aura and excitement. Their lyrics are clever and always tell a story. They can be serious or they can be upbeat, but the lyrics never feel sarcastic or detached from reality. At a time where bands wanted to be just like other bands, Alex Turner made sure he led the charge. Turner has always been able to create an art form from his own self-pity. Whereas many musicians make a career out of their own misfortunes and relationship troubles, Alex Turner managed to do the same but as a true storyteller. Turner’s lyricism has solidified his place as a true artist and uplifted his work past the reckless abandon and blind enthusiasm he was known for in his early years.
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Arctic Monkeys were different and this first album is the greatest example of that. They came into this new scene as a group of anxious teenagers with no true fan base. With a look and attitude of a garage band, the high level of song writing proved they had far more talent than your typical garage rockers. They were never the band they were made out to be. Something as simple as the album title could be seen as witty, yet scornful as they prepared to send a message to the music world.
Whether or not the band has matched the excitement of their debut, they have certainly become a more complete and in tune group. Whatever People Say I Am hasn’t shaped the mainstream sound like once predicted, but the ability to distance themselves from this first album and continuously make different music has been the key to their long lasting success.
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The way the band plays with a sense of truth and reality has helped them gain such a loyal fan base over the years. Whatever People Say I Am is an unapologetic documentation of the lives of regional clubbers and the somewhat dark, less than glamorous aspect of nightlife. When you break it down, Whatever People Say I Am is a concept album of sorts about the alternate lives of the working class once nightfall hits. It’s an American Graffiti for British youth looking for their cruising anthem. The album’s first track, “The View From the Afternoon,” opens the floor with lyricism ingrained in the halting dive bar scene. Turner sings “I want to see all of the things that we’ve already seen.” Many of the songs further develop that scene and give it a true name. It’s songs about underage drinking, a vindictive police force and rounds of violent, drunken rage all taking place before, after and in-between long hours of dancing.
The album’s major single and most well-known tune, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” perfectly examines a diminished feat during a night out. This song is an electric representation as Turner shouts “There ain’t no love, no Montagues or Capulets / just banging tunes and DJ sets and / dirty dance floors and dreams of naughtiness.”
“Riot Van” introduces the second half of the album with a much softer melody and slowed down tempo and drums. Even though this song takes a calmer approach, the violence and exuberance are still maintained. “Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured” is an in-depth look at a ride home after a night out. Another hit single, “When the Sun Goes Down,” provides vivid imagery on the subject of prostitution and helps shine a light on such a serious matter. Turner sings “I said, Who’s that girl there? / I wonder what went wrong / So that she had to roam the streets / She don’t do major credit cards / I doubt she does receipts.” Most of the tracks on the album are quite short, but the longest song, “A Certain Romance,” clocks in over five minutes with a mix of heavy and diminished guitars that give the album a satisfying nuance.
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Overtime, the excitement dulled and the sound evolved. They always pushed the limits of their sound and tried to take their artistry into a new realm. Every album has been more mature than the last, and the drunken intensity of Whatever People Say I Am turned into Favourite Worst Nightmare. Songs about clubbing turned into songs like “Old Yellow Bricks” and “Teddy Picker.” Then fans saw even more development with songs such as “Cornerstone” and “Crying Lightning” off their third album Humbug.
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2011 saw a much more relaxed album with their fourth release Suck It and See. Their growth as a band has been reoccurring and timely, and since their fifth record, A.M., was released three years ago, it has been the highest selling album since their debut and has sold more copies in the United States than their previous three releases combined.
Arctic Monkeys haven’t completely forgotten about their debut album. Their usual setlist is sure to feature a couple songs from the first album, but it’s just a small part of their current musical identity. The initial spark of that first album has held up quite well over the past decade. It isn’t a perfect album, but it is still a memorable debut and one of the best we’ve seen in the time since. The most important band of our generation? They’re far from it, but Arctic Monkeys have still strived to become one of the most dependable and consistent bands around. Five albums later, they have proven that consistency. Whatever You Say I am provides a 13-track display of powerful riffs that are heightened by such an honest and direct narrative. Whether you’re a fan of rock, punk, or pop, Arctic Monkeys have created an album that U.S. fans could enjoy and even call their own.