10th Anniversary: Arctic Monkeys debut album Revisited

There was that moment when the possibilities seemed endless.

Sheffield quartet Arctic Monkeys released their debut album ’Whatever People Say, That’s What I am Not’ ten years ago to much fanfare and a growing sense that we were on the cusp of something big.  A feeling that this was a debut record worth getting excited about, not just the tentative first steps of another bunch of rock hopefuls. Word of mouth and a rapidly growing live following suggested there was something stirring, that rock music on these islands was about to get a much needed kick up the arse.arctic1

Alex Turner’s gritty street poetry and the band’s brash and energetic pilfering of the very best from rock music’s rich history signalled that this was potentially something very special. They had the brattish attitude of punk but conversely, were supremely confident and technically accomplished musicians – this was no shambling three chord thrash built on nothing more than rock posturing and borrowed sneers. They were punk musos, a proper band, honed and ready; even now, ten years on it’s an album that is almost startling in the cocky self-belief it exudes.

‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor’, ‘A Certain Romance’ and ‘Still Take You Home’ delivered the kind of youthful thrills that music fans in this part of the world had been starved of. On its release, the album rapidly became the fastest selling debut album in Britain of all time. Turner was by some distance, the best English lyricist since Morrissey, a wry and eloquent observer of the grim, mundane reality of teenage life in the area of England he came from.

They were all set to become the most important English band since the Stone Roses, sharing a direct lineage with bands like The Sex Pistols, the Clash, Joy Division, the Smiths, Oasis – bands that seemed to reflect a moment in time, and re-invigorate a stale music scene just when we needed it most.

But just when we were ready to crown them the saviours of rock and roll, the band decided they weren’t having any of it.

Arctic Monkeys LiveWe were looking for someone to take on that mantle, but they politely declined – the title of the album probably says it all. Perhaps it was the burden of expectation that came with that mantle, or the pressures associated with fame, but over the course of the next four albums they plotted a course that steered them away from ‘spokesmen for a generation’ territory.

They grew their hair long, decamped to Los Angeles and hung out with rock stalwarts Queens of the Stone Age. They bought into the mythology of rock music, instead of creating their own. They continue to make great rock music, but nothing they have done since has come remotely close to the thrill of that debut album, a record that still induces shivers, and thoughts of “what if…?”

’Whatever People Say, That’s What I am Not’ stands as one of the finest debut albums of the last three decades, a record that still sounds fresh and exciting ten years on. Arctic Monkeys went on to become one of the most successful British bands in recent years, but listening to this classic of its era, there is the nagging sense that they could have been so much more than just another great rock and roll band.

 

Arctic Monkeys

 

Stephen Rubbathan was just eight years old when the album was released. He is part of a new generation of music fans discovering bands like the Arctic Monkeys in the same way my generation discovered bands like the Sex Pistols, Joy Division, the Velvet Underground, seminal acts that shaped and formed the music we listened to for the rest of our lives. This is his take on the Arctic Monkey’s debut, without the benefit of experiencing it when it was first released.

Ten years on since their debut album and now Arctic Monkeys are one of the biggest bands in the world. Their latest release which was back in 2013  ‘AM’, was a fantastic album and a huge success but never really topped Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not, which became the fastest selling British debut record of all time.

The album kicked off with a bang in ‘The View From the Afternoon’ – simple but brilliant lyrics make up a song about declaring your love to the girl you fancied after a night out via text. Then the albums main hit ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ came in with a smooth guitar solo and a catchy beat. Not hard to tell why this was an indie-disco floor filler (and still is in if you go to the right place.)

‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’ tells the story of a band who think they are rock stars but in reality they sing at weddings. “The band were fucking wank and I’m not having a nice time” says Alex Turner at his brash best.
‘Dancing Shoes’ was another brilliant dance-floor filler with its upbeat tones catchy riff. ‘You Probably Couldn’t See For The Lights But You Were Staring Straight At Me’ and ‘Still Take You Home’ were both songs about Turner’s search for love on a night out. Both also have Matt Helders banging on the drums and Turner and co successfully keeping up with fast pace set by Helders.

‘Riot Van’ drops the pace of the album completely. With just Turner on the guitar and Helders hitting the drums so softly you can barely even notice behind the Turner’s rough voice. ‘Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured’ is Turner at his story-telling best. Him sitting in the front trying to tell the story of his latest night out while his mates in the back discuss how to hop the taxi.Alex Turner _Arctic Monkeys

‘Mardy Bum’ is easily one of the best songs on the album with a light riff and Turner describing the arguements he has with his girlfriend. It’s a completely different feel to any of the other songs as it seems Turner went from searching for love on a night out to settling down in the space of 2 songs. ‘Perhaps Vampire Is A Bit Strong But?’ a much heavier track to the rest but still good all the same. ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ is next and it just seems that the album gets better with every song.

Turner then tells us the story of two over aggressive bouncers he tries to sneak past in the fast paced ‘From Ritz To Rubble’. The last song on the album ‘A Certain Romance’ deserves the drum roll it gets from Matt Helders at the start. Quite clearly the best song on the album. After the drum roll a light guitar riff and then accompanied by Turner’s in depth description of Sheffield and how he hates the area but that he “won’t go, not anywhere.”

The album, still poignant for today’s youth. If only they would stop listening to the absolute garbage today and learn to appreciate a masterpiece like this. I am part of that youth; I can only imagine how exciting this must have sounded for someone of my age first time around.