Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Andy Gill

By Andy Gill

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

"Tonight there'll be a ruckus, regardless of what went before," predicts Arctic Monkeys 'songwriter Alex Turner in "The View From The Afternoon," the opening track of the band's debut album, living up to his promise by taking us on a whirlwind tour of provincial teenage life as experienced in Britain today. It's effectively one long, extended fight, from rumbling with nightclub bouncers to getting slapped around by cops in the back of a riot van — a typical end to a typical evening in his hometown Sheffield, the staunchly left-wing northern industrial city laid low in the '80s when Thatcherite stringencies killed off the local coal and steel industries. But with his tales of Eccleshall phonies in Hunter's Bar and taxi-rides to Hillsborough, Turner invests his songs with a vivid sense of locality comparable to the coolest of American hip-hop 'hoods. That same strain of South Yorkshire pride comes through in the unapologetic dialect inflections he employs, and in the track title "Mardy Bum" (Sheffield-speak for "whinger"), which finds him chiding a girlfriend who's "got the face on."

A potent encapsulation of Sheffield’s bluff, no-nonsense attitude.

Sheffield's pop, like the city itself, has always been marked by a sardonic, rebellious artiness — previous exponents have included Pulp, ABC, Cabaret Voltaire and the Human League — and so it's no surprise to find Turner making Shakespearean reference to "Montagues and Capulets," or cynically observing that "there's only music so that there's new ringtones," or being singularly unimpressed by a nightclub show-off in the single "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor." Or, indeed, calling the album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, a perfect encapsulation of the bluff, no-nonsense local attitude.

Harnessed to a contemporary punk-pop sound infused with the scrawny, white-boy R&B feel of the early Stones, Who and Pretty Things, the result is the most potent release so far from the post-Libertines wave of British social-observation rockers, by a band that appreciates the value of taut discipline, but without sacrificing either the raucous edge that gives it life, or the artistry that illuminates that life.