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Arctic Monkeys – ‘Whatever People Say I Am…’ (Album Review)

On the face of it, Arctic Monkeys do their best to put you off. They have a dismal name and even worse artwork. They look boring and make boring videos. In interviews, they play at being macho, professionally northern anti-intellectuals. So far, so Oasis.

But unlike Noel Gallagher, Alex Turner refuses to hide his intelligence when he writes his songs. Consequently, this debut album, aside from its childishly contrary title, is very much a continuation of The Libertines’ work, with Turner bringing a dagger-like intellect to bear on his everyday routines: pulling girls in nightclubs, getting in scrapes, seething at the sleazy scumbags soliciting on the street outside. It’s easy to draw a line to The Libertines’ “Up the Bracket” album, with its hyper-eloquent tales of buying drugs, taking drugs and getting chased down the street by drug-dealers. While dreaming of Albion and Arcadia, obviously.

Reluctant as we are to harp on about them, The Libertines are central to an understanding of how the Monkeys got so big so quickly. When The Libertines dissolved at their peak, there was a ready-made, internet-connected fanbase left crying out for similarly sharp, funny, accessible band – but with a more practical bent. The Monkeys’ MP3s popped up at exactly the right time, and with Doherty lurching from one crisis to the next, The Libertines’ online army picked a new favourite band.

This debut album rewards their decision. Such is the depth and quality of Turner’s songwriting, it plays like a best of, blasting away any skepticism with an early one-two of “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” and “Fake Tales Of San Francisco”, before striking more contemplative notes with “Riot Van” (which dissects binge-drunk Britain) and “Mardy Bum” (a forensic exploration of relationship dynamics).

The Monkeys then tease out the white-funk thread running through their hot-wired indie-punk with “Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But…”, before the album accelerates into the devastating closing trio of “When The Sun Goes Down”, “From The Ritz To The Rubble” (in which a row with a bouncer inspires Turner’s best song) and the climactic “A Certain Romance”.

Having cast an eye over a world of Classic Reeboks and tracksuits tucked in socks, “A Certain Romance” then delivers a killer line: “All of that’s what the point is not / The point is that there’s no romance around here.” While “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” may be short of old-fashioned romance, there’s an abundance of real magic at work on this record. Like a good Oasis, the Arctic Monkeys are here to finish the job The Libertines abandoned. Hang out the bunting. (by Niall O’Keeffe)