Last month in the sweaty temple of music known as the London Astoria I worshiped at the altar of the Arctic Monkeys. Their performance was a revelation that mugged me of my considerable cynicism regarding the copius plaudits given to these whipper-snappers from Sheffield. My account of that experience was the review equivalent of Belushi back flipping down the aisles when the Rev. James Brown asked of the Blues Brothers congregation 'do you see the light?' Yes, I saw the light. And like all new converts I felt an evangelical duty to spread the word. The word was that the Arctic Monkeys are the real deal. So it was with some trepidation with which I approached listening to 'Favourite Worst Nightmare.' Having become such a public zealot would I now be left with a considerable amount of egg on my face? Thankfully the answer is no. Like any belief that is successfully put to the test my faith has been affirmed and strengthened. Though this may not be their masterpiece I stand by my assertion that the Arctic Monkeys are the real deal and, so long as they remain so, it is my mission to convert every Doubting Thomas.
The difficult second album. Many a lauded and applauded act has struggled with this one. A variety of approaches have been taken in pursuit of delivering the second coming. The Gallagher approach was to give an airing to the left overs deemed not quite good enough for the debut album. Some, such as the Strokes, take a laissez faire 'if it aint broke, don't fix it' approach. The Squire and Brown tactic was to take previous success as a license for self indulgence. Others, thinking of the La's, just wilt from the pressure. Luckily, the Arctic Monkey's have avoided the pit falls that litter the paths taken by these forerunners. Their sound maintains an energy and freshness which dispels fears they may have rested on their laurels. This is a collection that varies the pace and tone to suggest that they are more than just a one trick pony while the retention of economical 3 minute songs has guarded against any over indulgence.
Just in case the listener is in any doubt about the Arctic Monkey's musical direction they deliver hellos and goodbyes which make their own intentions absolutely clear. Album opener Brianstorm offers reassurance that they won't entirely turn their backs on the floor filling anthems with which the myspace kids first fell in love. Also reassuring is the proof that their heads haven't been turned by fame; preferring to mock boys in 't-shirts and ties combinations' and girls in jacuzzis who 'lay it on a plate' rather than deigning to join them. 505, the final song of the set, however leaves the listener with a reminder that the band intend to let their sound evolve even if outright revolution isn't on the cards. The signs point to the emergence of a more measured less frantic approach. Less brash and more sophisticated. Less about bravado but more confessional. All without discarding what made them special in the first place.
Where 'Whatever You Say I Am' was all about the possibilities of the night ahead, the soundtrack to an evening of escapades on dance-floors, Favourite Worst Nightmare is the journey home. Stepping off the nightbus the streets are empty except for neon reflections in dirty puddles and the rattling sound of the kebab shop shutters being pulled down. There is an air of menace that permeates throughout. It is an album that forces you to look over the shoulder to find you're being followed by edgy riffs, eerie organs, frantic drums, aggressive bass and tales of jealous boyfriends, daggers drawn and noses broken.
The strength of the Arctic Monkey's is that there is no evident bandmaster. They are a collective or gang who back each other up and allow all members a moment in the limelight. All have a chance to shine and impress. Alex Turner is a great chronicler of our times and certainly knows how to deliver a tune but that doesn't mean the rest are his backing band - far from it. The band was famously formed after they were given guitars for Christmas and surely Santa must have also delivered a bumper book of rock n roll riffs too. The versatility of the guitar parts is dizzying; ranging from Jack White-esque axe-smithery to delicate moments like riding the surf with the Beach Boys. The rhythm section play their part too. The bass veers from bullying on 'Teddy Picker' to bouncy on 'Flourescent Adolescent' and everything is held together by drumming alternating from powerhouse to shuffling in a manner which even Remi would be proud. Fortunately when they all raise their game simultaneously such as on 'Balaclava' there is no sign of too many cooks spoiling the broth, on the contrary the mixture of ingredients is magic.
I'm not preaching here in hope of convincing you to pay alms to the Chimpomatic church only to find that I shall later misappropriate these funds for a new life in Rio. It is not an album completely immune from criticisms, though in truth this is knit-picking in order to demonstrate that I'm not just pretending that the Emperor is wearing clothes. Very occasionally as on 'If You Were There, Beware' or 'Do Me A Favour' it is easy to predict the 'here comes the rock out' bit that characterises 6th form bands. Maybe sometimes the band have taken this commission too seriously. The likes of 'The Bad Thing' and 'Flourescent Adolescent' offer a too rare glimpse into the fun that it's possible to have when you're young and in a top rock n roll act. Expectations are high and perhaps Turner over-extends himself when he ventures beyond story telling to message giving. He doesn't need to try to be the spokesman for a generation, he can afford to leave that to someone else. But seriously, that is just knit picking.
So will the Arctic Monkey's prove themselves to the doubters with Favourite Worst Nightmare? Perhaps. Is this a great album? Maybe, though not definitely. Only time can hand out such accolades but respect and kudos needs to be awarded for giving it a valiant try. Are the Arctic Monkey's a great band? Again only time will tell but Favourite Worst Nightmare at least proves that they have the nous, talent and balls to one day deserve to be heralded as such.