Wild Mercury Sound
The Arctic Monkeys, last night
I was exchanging emails with one of Uncut's American writers the other day who had just finished a piece for a US mag about The View. He was pretty unimpressed by their record, and went on to have a go at the latest batch of British bands being pushed hard in the States as the next big thing. All of them, he thought, were overhyped and underachieving, with the exception of the Arctic Monkeys. Did I agree, he wondered?
Well, of course I did, though I was fairly self-conscious about it. Seeing as I never much liked Oasis, even, it's hard for me to get the point of most of these bands. I often think I'm unreasonably prejudiced against mainstream British indie groups, but they seem so blandly aspirational, pushy and posturing and humdrum, really.
Anyway, I was thinking about this at the Astoria last night, right after the Arctic Monkeys finished playing. The set lasted just over an hour, and the atmosphere in the crowd was bullish, celebratory, a lot of blokes all hoarse and emotional spilling beer over their mates. It was great, too, and it occurred to me: how weird that I like one of these British 'Bands Of The People'; how weird that I've just shared one of those geezerly epiphanies that I normally find so alienating.
There are a few explanations for this, I think. One is that the Arctic Monkeys aren't just an exceptional band, but the sort of exceptional band in whom you can find what you want. We chat to a guy stood next to us who's there with his 16-year-old son, and who loves them because he hears The Jam in Alex Turner's songs, who is going to see The Beat tonight and can place the Monkeys into a tradition of British mod and ska.
These aren't really my touchstones, though I can see his point. What I choose to hear when I listen to these songs is The Smiths and Queens Of The Stone Age, jittery post-punk and the lyrical rhythms of hip-hop. I bump into Mark Beaumont from NME afterwards, and he tells me that I secretly like the Monkeys because those abrasive guitars have the ring of The Wedding Present about them. I haven't played my Wedding Present records in maybe 15 years, but I fear he may have a point.
I like, too, the fact that, unlike all the cheeky social documentarists who've come up in their wake, the Arctic Monkeys' ambitions lie in stretching their music. They are congenitally incapable of being a foursquare indie band, because Matt Helders is congenitally incapable of playing a foursquare indie beat. His drumming is all limber funk and desperate metal fills. It's muscular and relentless and it propels these excellent songs - especially new songs like "Balaclava" and "Teddy Picker" - into complicated and exciting places.
And finally, I like Alex Turner a lot, especially the gauche, passive-aggressive nonchalance he has about him, so different from the blustery arrogance of supposed contemporaries like the guy from Kasabian. The new songs are mostly better than the old ones, but it's significant that tonight the Arctic Monkeys don't bother playing the strongest one of all, "Fluorescent Adolescent". We'll have to play this one for the rest of our careers, is the subtext, so we might as well get out of playing it now while we still can.