February 6, 2006


Teen Spirit: Arctic Monkeys Observed in the Wild (KELEFA SANNEH, 1/30/06, NY Times)

He is one of the biggest rock stars in Britain, leader of one of the most exciting bands on the planet. He just turned 20. And on Friday night he could be found in a grotty little room in Glasgow, talking about his grandfather.

He is Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, a scrappy and brilliant group from Yorkshire that is currently awash in hyperbolic praise. The debut Arctic Monkeys album, "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" (Domino), has been instantly — and accurately — hailed as a modern classic, even though it was only released a week ago. The British music magazine NME ranked it at No. 5 on a recent list of the greatest British albums ever. It sold over 360,000 copies in the last week, making it the fastest-selling debut album in British history.

But despite this whirlwind, Mr. Turner seemed unusually self-aware but not at all worried as he sat backstage at the Carling Academy Glasgow before playing yet another sold-out show.

"My granddad said to me, 'I think you've overdoon it,' " he said, acknowledging with his Yorkshire pronunciation the huge fuss about the little band. "And I said, 'I think you're right.' "

Hype isn't really the right word to describe the Arctic Monkeys phenomenon, which began with sold-out local gigs and homemade CD's passed from old fans to new ones. Record executives struggled to keep up; Domino Records eventually signed the band and released a single, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," which topped the British charts. The follow-up single, "When the Sun Goes Down," also went to No. 1.

The Daily Sun has three of their songs accessible on-line.

The spotty poets who came from web space: Profile: Arctic Monkeys (Sunday Times of London, 1/22/06)

In the Chinese horoscope, 2006 is the year of the dog but as far as the music industry is concerned it’s the year of Arctic Monkeys, four spotty Sheffield youths who are the most talked about new band since the arrival of Oasis 12 years ago.

From this weekend it is going to be difficult to avoid the former school chums. NME, the music magazine, predicts that no sooner will their second single go to No 1 today than their first album, out tomorrow, may become the fastest-selling debut rock album since British records began.

It sounds like hype, but that is a commodity Arctic Monkeys have shunned throughout their meteoric rise. The group, three of whom are 19 and all of whom live with their parents, must be the only chart debutants to turn down playing their previous No 1 hit on Top of the Pops. No videos, no promos, no “bollocks”, as they put it.

Arctic Monkeys are the first “blog band” to build a huge fan base before the record industry had even cottoned on. They seemed to come from nowhere, at the head of their “Arctic army”.

The title of their new album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, is a quote from Albert Finney’s working-class rebel in the 1960 kitchen sink movie Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Their new single is called When the Sun Goes Down.

The means of their ascent via the internet, in the face of the industry’s fears about the illegal downloading of music, is not the only thing that distinguishes them. Their raw power and driving songs have caught the public imagination and rescued rock’n’roll from complacency — as did the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, Nirvana and the Strokes in earlier years.

Arctic Monkeys eye record debut (BBC, 1/24/06)
The Arctic Monkeys' album could become the fastest-selling debut album in recorded chart history, after selling more than 100,000 on its first day.

Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not sold 118,501 copies, outselling the rest of the top 20 albums combined.

It is expected to sell over 350,000 copies by the end of the week, breaking Hear'Say's five-year-old record.

"We knew day one sales were going to be big, but nobody expected them to be this huge," said HMV's Phil Penman.

-REVIEW: Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Scott Plagenhoef, January 25, 2006, Pitchfork)
Two No. 1 singles, a few breathless reviews, and a load of thinkpieces about how The Internet Will Change Music Forever later and in the UK the Arctic Monkeys are suddenly the biggest band of the decade.

It would be nice to think that a democratized music industry would mean the kids are tossing up alternatives to what they're already getting, but the Arctic Monkeys are, at their heart, the same sort of meat'n'potatoes guitar rock that has dominated the UK since the emergence of the Strokes, if not Oasis. They're a band that neatly sums up what's already selling, and in a relatively condensed media market the group was always going to be a hit; what's changed is that they were pegged quickly, mainlined to their target market and the UK mainstream press and radio for six months, then called an organic success story. (America, don't get smug: Your biggest download success to date is "My Humps".) And context still matters: When Oasis or the Strokes rolled into town, they were breaths of fresh air, antidotes to a lack of swagger or hooks or artists who wanted and deserved to be rock stars; Arctic Monkeys are yet another in a string of buzzsaw guitar bands with Northern accents.

What's meant to be different about them are sometimes keenly expressive lyrics and that irresistible backstory.

-REVIEW: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Andy Gill, 20 January 2006 , Independent)

Less measured and methodical, more lairy than art-school poseurs like Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys represent instead the high-water-mark (so far) of the post-Libertines wave of British social-observation rockers. Alex Turner is a vastly more original songwriter than any of your Hard-Fis, Others and Ordinary Boys, and manages to apply far greater discipline to his craft than Pete Doherty, without sacrificing the raucous edge that gives it life, or the artistry that illuminates that life.

"Tonight there'll be a ruckus, regardless of what went before," advises Turner in the opening "The View from the Afternoon", living up to his promise by whisking the listener on a whirlwind tour of provincial teenage life - effectively one long, extended ruckus, from rumbling with the bouncers at a club, and chatting up a girl made beautiful by a judicious combination of beer goggles and caked-on cosmetics, to getting slapped around by cops in the back of a riot van. The perfect end to a perfect evening, some might say. But with his tales of Eccleshall pseuds in Hunter's Bar and taxi-rides to Hillsborough, Turner manages to invest his songs with a vivid sense of locality. That same strain of South Yorkshire pride comes through in the unapologetic dialect inflections and the splendid track title "Mardy Bum", which finds him chiding a girlfriend who's "all argumentative and got the face on".

-Monkey Business: How U.K. teens Arctic Monkeys became the next Franz Ferdinand (BRIAN HIATT, Jan 12, 2006, Rolling Stone)
-Chippy, wary and the target of dirty rumours. Result! (Sarah Boden, January 29, 2006, The Observer)
-Whatever they say they are, that's what they are (Caroline Sullivan, January 27, 2006, The Guardian )
-Arctic Monkey MP3s (Pure Volume)
-VIDEO: When the Sun Goes Down (Virgin Records)

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 6, 2006 5:02 PM

Ah yes, this season's hugh-in-the-UK-nearly-unheard-of-in-the-USA musical trend.

viz. Robbie Williams, The Darkness, etc.

If you want a real hoot, look up the history of a group called the Kelly Family. American hippies who became the biggest music group in European history.

Posted by: H.D. Miller at February 6, 2006 7:46 PM

Oh, the Kelly's have nothing on the story of Dean Reed, the Ricky-Nelson-like singer who became a Communist rock star/actor/teen heartthrob. For quite a while he was the most famous American musician in the Communist bloc. He died in 1986 in his adopted homeland of East Germany, probably murdered by the Stasi. Check out the fascinating documentary American Rebel if you can find it.

Posted by: PapayaSF at February 6, 2006 9:00 PM

You kids with your rock and roll music.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 7, 2006 12:54 AM

One of their songs came on the radio the other day and it did jerk me into consciousness, mainly because the words were so funny and clever.

A bit like hearing 'Arnold Layne' or 'Lola' or 'Down in the Tubestation at Midnight' or 'This Charming Man' for the first time when all the other songs on the airwaves are about La la la I love you.

Posted by: Brit at February 7, 2006 6:17 AM