Not many albums open with a song like "Brianstorm." I'm talking Dick Dale on angel dust. I'm talking a sentient '68 Ford Mustang playing a sentient '68 Fender Mustang. Seriously, surfboards in the seventh dimension. The future of rock and roll, so retro it makes me want to dance like a Pulp Fiction character.
Actually, Pulp Fiction came to mind a few times while listening to Favourite Worst Nightmare. First of all, there aren't a lot of reference points for intros combining surf-rock and deadliness. But there's more to the connection. Not only in the incongruously successful use of past clichÃÂ©s (see the wavering Crimson and Clover guitar on "The Only Ones Who Know," the pure 60's solo from "Teddy Picker," and the Wipeout tom-toms in "Do Me a Favor"), but in this album's combination of the harsh and the cartoonish. The basslines on the fast songs, "Balaclava" for instance, are only getting sillier and the drums, nasty as can be, do occasionally venture into camp. After the sixth superfast hi-hat break of the album, I started to feel like I was listening to Lil Jon. In spite of this sort of over-the-top orchestration, though; Arctic Monkeys never let go of the ability to produce stark, cynical images. The thugs, thieves, vandals, and adulterers that populate this record provide a fitting palate for frontman Alex Turner's jaded limey wordplay.
Ultimately, though, Arctic Monkeys aren't a bunch of assholes. In fact, aware as they are of the fucked world they inhabit, they're still kind of...sweet. Despite a decidedly adult ability to avoid verse/chorus/verse structure - actually, the songs feel like succession of Rad! Bridges! - they keep their childlike good spirit. A song like "Fluorescent Adolescent" will do that for you. It manages to both ridicule and sympathize with its past-her-prime heroine. The jokes that they level at this sad case are actually sort of adorable. Dick references so British I had to look up the vocabulary (Mecca Dobber? Mega Dobber? Anyone?) and references to her nightdress make it clear that the band is having insightful fun rather than simply abusing their subject.
The album as a whole avoids the fast song/slow song/fast song simplicity of Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. This complexity cuts both ways. The new album really is a more expressive piece of music. But the old one rocked in a way that only "Brianstorm" can beat on Favourite Worst Nightmare. Luckily, the slower songs here really do ring true. In particular, "Do Me a Favor" is some of the deadliest atmosphere-creating music I've ever heard. If it's not on a soundtrack within a year, I'll have to make the movie myself. Unfortunately, this song is followed by the album's low-point: the three-track swing from "This House is a Circus" to "The Bad Thing." I wish these tracks didn't sound like they were written by Franz Ferdinand on The Libertine's coke, but they do. Ah well. The drums are still tricky and the lyrics are still concise and clever. Eminem-worthy lines like the following make up for a lot, and at least allow the listener to avoid the skip button:
This house is a circus, berserk as fuck / We tend to see that as a perk though. Look / What it's done to your friends their memories are pretend / And the last thing they want is for the feeling to end.
Thankfully, these three songs are followed by "Old Yellow Bricks." Suffice to say it kicks proper Arctic ass. Last up is "505," which I happen to love. This is because of its desert beauty and its dubious area-code reference to New Mexico, my degenerate current home state.
It's clear by the album's end that Arctic Monkeys have succeeded at stretching out as a hand, although maybe not at re-energizing their fans. They haven't reproduced the teen awesomeness of their first record, but it doesn't feel like they wanted to. Try as we might, no one stays 19, shy, and drunk forever.
If I am to believe Wikipedia.org, this album is one of the greatest albums ever released. If I have to believe Wikipedia.org, this band is one of the greatest ever to spawn from the United Kingdom. If I have to believe the professors at my school, Wikipedia.org should never be trusted - and damn, they're absolutely right.
Favourite Worst Nightmare is heavier and faster than their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. It's a shame that it's also as repetitive, predictable and boring. Catchy bass lines that make my foot shake a bit can't save this album. The Arctic Monkeys prove to be too shallow in material and quality to be anything special. I managed to listen to the album and tried to be open-minded towards it. I failed. I just can't consider this album any good.
What can I say about this album? Well, if you already liked the Arctic Monkeys, you'll definitely like this album and you should go out and buy it. If you're one of the "Monkey Haters", you'll continue to hate them. I'm one of these "haters", if you haven't noticed. Why do I dislike them so much? Simply put: I miss the creative spark bands like Radiohead and Blur are known for. Bands that manage to inspire me and give me a certain vibe or transfer emotions directly from the song. Those qualities are missing when I listen to this album.
The first song on the album, "Brianstorm," opens with a repetitive and seemingly endless bass line, backed up by equally repetitive drums before, before eventually the guitar kicks in. Alex Turner sings about a guy (I can only presume it's about Brian) who is a real ladies man, who makes all other guys jealous. Not the most inspiring and touching lyrics I ever heard, but I've heard worse and other bands got away with it. Unfortunately the entire song stays repetitive. Perhaps the idea was to give it a punk-like edge, by being fast and rough. It works for other bands, but it fails for the Monkeys, partly because of Turner's voice, which just alienates the music even further. The man's voice just isn't gruff enough to keep up with the intended atmosphere of "Brianstorm".
Second song "Teddy Picker" suffers the same fate. Repetitive, almost omnipresent bass lines that just go on and on and on. I love some good ol' bass slappin', but not when it's as uninspired as the stuff heard on Favourite Worst Nightmare. To stay positive: as opposed to the previous song, the guitar is finally used to bring some change and pace within the song. Too bad those moments are too short and too far in-between.
This cycle goes on for two more songs. Some consider this to be part of the Arctic Monkeys' charm, but I personally find it annoying. Variation in the structure of the songs and album would have been nice. The Monkeys could learn a lot from Damon Albarn and Blur when it comes to this aspect of being a musician. Blur manages to keep an album interesting, without ruining the flow and feeling of the album. This directly opposes Favourite Worst Nightmare, which holds few surprises to the listener from the start.
Two (and only) surprises come with "Florescent Adolescent" and "Only One Who Knows," as these songs actually stray away from the pattern of the first four songs. They're less straightforward and more reminiscent of Oasis. You might think I'm just bitching and moaning, and perhaps I am, but it just doesn't work. I am willing to give "Florescent Adolescent" some slack, but "Only One Who Knows" becomes tedious the longer it drags on, and that's only 3:02 minutes.
For those who hope that it can only get better after "Only One Who Knows," throw that hope in the trashcan. Favourite Worst Nightmare slips back into the generic and predictable formula that haunted the first four songs of the album.
No matter how hard they try, the Arctic Monkeys just aren't punk and edgy. Arctic Monkeys are not artsy-fartsy like Franz Ferdinand. Arctic Monkeys do not share Oasis' aura, nor can they get away with the stuff Oasis gets away with. Arctic Monkeys are just not musicians of the same caliber as Radiohead. Bluntly said: Favourite Worst Nightmare is just garbage, catchy garbage, but still garbage.