Spin Control  

February 5, 2006


Arctic Monkeys, "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" (Domino) ***

On occasion, readers complain that critics seem overly enamored with "the new." ("Who are these bands you write about? I've never heard of them!") But if this is a problem in the U.S., it's nothing compared to the U.K., where the band of the day is lauded with more hyperbole than greeted the Beatles, if not the second coming of Christ.

The British gods of the moment are a quartet called Arctic Monkeys that formed in Sheffield in 2003 and released its debut album late last year; it drops here on Feb. 21. If you believe the English press, "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" is nothing short of pure genius, and record buyers seem to agree: It

was the fastest-selling debut album in the history of the British pop charts.

While these 13 tunes have their invigorating charms -- like many of the releases on the Domino label, this is high-energy dance music with a New Wave of New Wave flavor -- the sounds are nothing new, especially to American ears. The musicians cite among their heroes the White Stripes and the Vines (at the average age of 19, the musicians are too young too remember Nirvana), though they don't own up to their most obvious inspiration, the Strokes; just count the "borrowed" riffs.

The distinctly English touch that bandleader Alex Turner brings to the mix is a flair for witty lyrics critiquing the foibles of British society, a noble tradition that goes back to the Kinks -- though again, Arctic Monkeys probably think Blur or Pulp invented it. This is sometimes executed with considerable flair -- witness the smash hit "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" -- but at other times, it's reduced to Turner's fondness for sneering variations of the word "scum" ("When the Sun Goes Down," "The View From the Afternoon"), perhaps the most vivid evidence that these lads have a lot of growing up to do before they come close to living up to the hype.