Arctic Monkeys have already been lumped in with all those post-punk spitfire bands from across the ocean, including their very own U.K. labelmates Franz Ferdinand. Yet there’s a revealing moment on the Monkeys’ Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not that trashes any comparisons. Like many of their songs, ”The View From the Afternoon” is a manic punk-metal roller-coaster plunge that seems to end — and then, suddenly, starts up all over again.
That sense of the unexpected is key to Arctic Monkeys’ appeal. In their native England, they’re plenty popular already: Last month, Whatever People Say became the fastest-selling debut in U.K. history. But their story isn’t just about numbers: Whatever People Say is less obsessed with retro flavor than with uninhibited rock & roll, complete with a cocky but utterly charming leader.
That frontman — singer, guitarist, and songwriter Alex Turner, all of 20 years old — is unmistakably British in his delivery and slang; judging from droll song titles like ”Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong but…,” he’s also smarter than your average laddie. Yet the rock club adventures of many of his songs will ring true to any twentysomething (or anyone who remembers what it was like to be that age). First, he has to deal with bouncers (”From the Ritz to the Rubble”). Once inside, he’s confronted with a band trying too hard to sound like something from the past (”Fake Tales of San Francisco”), so he checks out fellow nightlifers instead (the propulsive U.K. smash ”I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” where he mock-whimpers, ”I wish you’d stop ignoring me, because it’s sending me to despair”). Women — probably unattainable ones — are all around, and he addresses a particularly aloof lass, if only in his mind, in ”Still Take You Home.” Later, he ruminates, with amusement and disgust, on the cops who harass his friends (”Riot Van”).
This club-crawler’s-eye-view perspective sets Turner apart from his contemporaries (who don’t nail nightlife details as well), as does the music. Although tight, Arctic Monkeys are far less studied than the likes of Franz. Guitars and drums ricochet off each other; riffs are bounced around like soccer balls. With their kicky hooks, the songs owe more to Warped Tour thrashers than to stoic post-punk inspirations like Gang of Four. Although a few tracks amount to hand-me-downs (”Mardy Bum” feels like a lo-fi ”Take Me Out”), they whip by so fast you barely notice them. Arctic Monkeys could suffer the same fate — they rose to fame awfully fast, thanks to the way in which their demos were passed around the Internet — but the ride will have still been worth it.