With Favourite Worst Nightmare, Arctic Monkeys make good on the cocky promise/threat/bumper sticker slogan in the title of their hot-cakes debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Nowadays it’s way too limiting to linger on the Sheffield quartet’s back-story: Yup, they sold more records more quickly than anyone in UK history, were really young while doing it.
Listening to Whatever People Say I Am in tandem with the twelve new tracks, it’s clear the sophomore effort includes stronger writing, more assured tunes. A fair percentage ought to look really good on the dance floor. An upped musculature’s clearly defined on the out-of-the-gates opener and kinetic first single, “Brianstorm.” (Where are you Brian? We can’t believe those cardiovascular gals in short-shorts didn’t draw you out of hiding.) The songs a triumph: Over sludgy fuzz bass (hey Mudhoney), rapid high-hat drumming, and wiry guitar, the three-minute bundle of coiled guitar-rock finds Alex Turner stepping it up some with Reed/Malkmus cadence assuredness: “Bet there’s hundreds of blokes that have wept ’cause you’ve stolen their…” ?wait, wait, wait… “thundah.” (Or, later, in “Old Yellow Bricks”: “Dorothy was right, though…” Cue the drumming and engulfing exeunt.) There are less boring group shouts, more one-man shouting.
There’ll be a lot of talk/analysis about sophomore slumps, but the boys have their eyes focused on something beyond that sort of thing. They’re still barely drink-legal (sorry, age reference), but they’re already riffing on lost time and archetypal Brit-rock midlife crises. Documenting black-and-white older age (ditto), “Fluorescent Adolescent” swings with a debonair Strokesian air: “You used to get it in your fishnets / Now you only get it in your night dress / Discarded all the naughty nights for niceness / Landed in a very common crisis / Everything’s in order in a black hole / Nothing seems as pretty as the past though / That Bloody Mary’s lacking in Tabasco / Remember when he used to be a rascal?” Excuse the extended quotation, but man if the fishnets and naughtiness don’t taste rather Pulpy … We can almost imagine Jarvis Cocker asking: “Remember when all the boys were electric?” We do, and we also remember Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth. (Note: Jarvis thinks “Brianstorm” is “pretty good.” Not bad.)
More Buzzcocks than Cocker, sex and marriage is eviscerated with red wine and oomph on “The Bad Thing”: “Take off your wedding ring, / But it wont make it that much easier, it might make it worse.” And, really adulterers, no worry about leaving before the lights come on ? Favorite Worse Nightmare stays pretty dark. Think of “The View From the Afternoon” turned into a more interesting view of some glitter-house night. Or, check out the crushed-velvet ballad, “Only Ones Who know.” This one moves with a nice bit of Richard Hawley-style class, but later the more precipitous nostalgia of “505” sinks beneath a bit of ponderousness, even when it breaks out, eventually. (Note: While there are no straight-up “Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong But…” duds, some songs definitely wander a bit into the creative desert. Like, our heads are bobbing, our toes tapping, and one of us is doing Clash-era air guitar, but “This House Is A Circus” and “If You Were There, Beware” tread water.)
All these choruses are rousing, but so is the attitude. In “Do Me A Favour” Alex sings, all resigned-like, “Do me a favor and break my nose.” A bit later he admits: “You could see that we’d cried. / And I watched and I waited ’til she was inside, forcin’ a smile and waving goodbye.” It’s a hard-assed soft-hearted cockiness in the face of knickers and fishnets, penned with real-life, workaday detail rather than generalized, romanticized cliché that adds the final, necessary kick. The Smiths references are premature (and pretty silly at this point), but darn if we aren’t listening closely to what these guys are saying.
Favourite Worst Nightmare is out 4/24 on Domino.