The Arctic Monkeys – Don’t Believe The Hype; Listen Instead.
It is music that often typifies a certain period in time, often to the extent where it’s lauded as timeless, despite its roots. Indeed, retrospectives on history often depend on music of the time to qualify them, whether they be documents of the Thatcher years (cue the Specials or The Smiths), the swinging Sixties (cue Booker T and the MGs or the Beatles, should they afford that), or the advent of Cool Britannia (cue splash frames of Damon Albarn looning about and the Gallaghers snarling), they all look to the produce of the music industry to inform their integrity and credibility.
So to say I’ve “lived” the Noughties – arm aches – requires me to round off a list of names thought culturally to be the great innovators and poets of the day. This is mostly moot to me as I just don’t particularly care for lyrics. It’s a strange thought, but often when I hear people commenting on lyrics, I marvel at their ability to do so, as if everyone has an uncanny knack for grasping lyrics at the second or first hearing except me. Some of my favourite songs I could not tell you the lyrics to. Instead, I listen to sounds, both noise and ambience and enjoy that instead. Often it’s the jump of the bass, the chorus of moody guitars or the galloping drumwork that’ll invigorate me. God knows how I like hip-hop if the lyrical eloquence passes me by (is it enough to say I like the samples and the beats?). So, on to this list, right…well, it isn’t really a list (and certainly not a competitive one at that) but hopefully it will be indicative of my decade.
ARCTIC MONKEYS – WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM, THAT’S WHAT I’M NOT (2006)
I tend to shy away from bands touted as the next big thing, as much a reactionary process and rejection of the NME, as a serious suspicion of the optimism and premonitions of said musical journalists. To me the Arctic Monkeys were no different, at first, than the hosts of other young indie bands frollicking around in the mid-Noughties (Ow, broke a tooth). I even became openly hostile of them when their fame and profile started to rise – “only empty hype,” I told myself – but then I bought a ticket for Reading 2006. Refraining from going off to watch something else probably rubbish in retrospect, I hung around the main stage out of peer pressure as much as anything, quietly berating my parties taste. But then they came on and by god they were fantastic. I am not suggesting they are the best performers in the world, because I wouldn’t know that, but everything came together: the excitement rustling through the crowd, the hype slowly building underneath the forest of heads and plumes of smoke, the alcohol, the lesser thought of substances and suddenly the cutting guitars and thumping drums of View From The Afternoon, with the crooning voice of Alex Turner ringing out. I was totally sold on them. And thus ends my painfully unimpressive Arctic Monkeys anecdote.
As much as there is to criticise about “the dickhead festival,” I will always thank Reading what it gave me the night I saw the Monkeys the first time. I must also point out that my usual deafness to the lyric just doesn’t seem to apply with the Monkeys. I get everything, and I appreciate everything. Maybe it’s the influence of the Monkeys growing up on garage and hip-hop, but they pole vault the lyrical dreariness of the self-indulgent, new-romantic-Lord-Byron-wannabees who appear every bloody week, and allows them to deliver infectious rhythm and biting wit in their idiosyncratic stories of modern youth; stories that I get. Thing is, many narratives on the album relate to an experience I’ve known as a youngling in the fading years of the Noughties – Ow, again – and as such, the first Arctic Monkeys album shall forever be the soundtrack to my fading youth, irrelevant of those it passes by.