Arctic Monkeys

Favourite Worst Nightmare

(Domino; 2007)

By Alan Baban | 29 December 2007

The big cliché about the Arctic Monkeys is that they matter; the bigger cliché is that they don’t.

Still, the unmistakable fact is that by the time this week is over, Favourite Worst Nightmare will have monopolised UK charts, with all twelve—yes, twelve—of its songs already making steady headway in the UK top 150. Statement or no statement: somewhere along the line, people cared enough to get in a wild tizzy, and those same people have already received this second outing rapturously. “At the very top of their own and everyone else’s game,” says the Observer Music Monthly; to others the band is similarly “unique, vibrant,” coming up trumps with “authenticity and integrity.” My friend Ralph thinks they’re “awesome,” and I don’t pretend to disagree: there’s certainly something about the Arctic Monkeys, even if their last EP sort of paled relative to the champagne melodicisms and cosmo-hip witticisms of choice Whatever You Think I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006) cuts like “A Certain Romance.”

That song in particular didn’t feel like a false note. The lifeblood behind the tune’s over-adept circuitry radiated the spirit of youth awash in fatalism and dry melancholia pointed into the barbed directives of Alex Turner’s easy, talkative flow. It just makes one wonder how the Arctic Monkeys would sound, or if they’d even be able to exist, in another era, sheltered from the none-too fastidious leanings of NME. Despite their easily acknowledged talent, they’ve always seemed to overstep the need to prove, in one way or another, that they’re the “real deal.”

Fittingly then, Favourite Worst Nightmare seems warped and contrived, bearing all the signs and watermarks of a band trying not to feel uncomfortable. The songs are less garrulous, but more focused, their melodies minor — in both senses of the word — and carried for the most part by brusque and overzealous execution (check: “Brianstorm”). The peppy Country House chimes and honeyed hummability of “Fluorescent Adolescent,” all bread and butter insouciance, seems garishly out of place when put in context with the asymmetric riff lurches that occupies the rest of the record. More often than not, it’s played competently but overly knotty (“Balaclava”), and when it comes together, as it does on the fire-and-brimstone refrain of the surging “This House is a Circus,” one can’t help find the whole affair slightly humourless. When it doesn’t quite come together, the gritty candor and levelled buoyancy feels less sobering than it does admonishing. “Only Ones Who Know” prat-falls on the line “true romance can’t be achieved these days,” its reverb-esconced slide guitar another addition in an overcrowded interpretation of unhappiness.

But, hey, it’s not like they’ve pulled in the London Philharmonic and become Coldplay: the Arctics know well that the success of their songs rely on the extent that people will buy into them. This, I guess, is their big idea: underambition. There are, thankfully, no long songs, no extraneous farfisa. The songs are how one would expect them to sound, but less funny and mordant. There could be worse things, and I think that’s the point.