The Arctic Monkeys are traversing a very dangerous high-wire at the moment. After the mega-hype of their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, the record breaking sales of said album, the resulting accolades and the oft-thought cursed winning of the Mercury Prize, this Sheffield band had to somehow find their way out of this mountainous weight of success and expectation to craft a follow-up record. Second albums were never easy in the first place, and the Arctic Monkeys had an even more uphill climb than most. Despite this, it seems that the foursome avoided arduous trek back to the top, opting to take the chair-lift, meaning that they triumphed again and made it look all too easy.
A recent magazine had a number of the members of the post-punk elite giving advice to the Monkeys on how to avoid the traps and pitfalls of a sophomore slump. Some were nuggets of honest and sage advice while others were tongue-in-cheek commentary and contrary bits of wisdom, such as a member of the Futureheads telling them to just make the exact same album over again. Anyone who has listened to News & Tributes know this to be patently absurd. It’s hard to tell whose advice the Monkeys took to heart, if any. In reality, the album was already finished by the time the magazine even hit stands so there was no way any of these messages even affected Favourite Worst Nightmare, which might have been a good thing.
“Brianstorm,” which is spelled correctly, by the way, is a reintroduction to the loud and angst-ridden band that captured our fancies when they first appeared, all rapid-fire drumbeats, angular guitars and Alex Turner’s cockney accent. “D is for Dangerous” is another standout, containing the phrase that makes up the title of the album, referring to one of those girls that simply spells trouble for any man. “Flourescent Adolescent” is a wonderful change of pace in comparison to the first four tracks, concentrating on melody as opposed to a full-frontal assault of the senses. Turner’s delivery is still rapid-fire, but there’s much more of a Smiths feel to this tune rather than the Jam. “Only Ones Who Know” is also impressive, a dark little love song, along the same lines as Richard Hawley.
“Do Me a Favour” keeps the tempo under the red line, at least as compared to other Monkeys tracks. There’s a hint of the Specials’ brand of ska as well as a gorgeously slowed down bridge. The lyrics of “This House is a Circus” perhaps let us peek into insights on the band’s thought processes regarding the hype surrounding the band. Yes, things got `berserk as fuck’ as they claim, but they say they `tend to see that as a perk’ and rise above it all because they’re `forever unfulfilled.’ So, I suppose the Arctic Monkeys won’t be lounging poolside at their mansions surrounded by empty bottles of Cristal and discarded hypos anytime soon. Someone listened to the lyrics of “To Be Someone,” because in the rock and roll game, today’s heroes are tomorrow’s VH-1 punchlines.
The guitars come roaring back with a vengeance in “If You Were There, Beware,” even creating a buzzingly metal-style bridge. “The Bad Thing” is a melodious jaunt through the world of infidelity. Only Alex Turner could find the syncopation and rhyme scheme to fit in the word `escapologist’ as he does in “Old Yellow Bricks.” That particular song also finds a bit of Marr-esque guitar strums between chord outbursts. It’s quite lovely. “505” tends more toward the Morrissey side than the Marr, sounding like it could fit easily on one of the Mozzer’s latest triumphant solo albums.
So how do you defeat expectation and the sophomore slump? I’m not sure that the answer could be gleaned from the Monkeys or their great second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, but they’ve succeeded for sure. Some might say that they did try to write songs that were similar to those on their massively popular debut while others will cite huge differences. It’s not particularly clear, but when you write songs as great as the Arctic Monkeys’ tunes, I guess consistency plays a role. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this album, but suffice it to say, I’m more than pleasantly surprised, I’m actually impressed.