Within the first seconds of opener “The View From The Afternoon” I’m all in on Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, the frantic and impeccably slick debut from the Arctic Monkeys. The indie bands that instantly wowed me as I was exploring other genres besides straight up rock and metal were few and far between, but the ridiculous level of musicianship coupled with effortless execution and a tongue firmly in cheek (when it wasn’t wagging) all combined to make this a favorite, something that gets better the more it’s played and the LOUDER it’s played.
So many of my buttons are hit with Whatever People Say I’m Am… at 13 short tracks just under 43 minutes it’ll fit on one side of a black cassette (in my mind this has always been the perfect album length). The album barely takes a breath from the killer opener through singles “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” and “Fake Tales of San Francisco” and the chunky riff barrages of “Dancing Shoes” and the oddly Dead Kennedys reminiscent “Still Take You Home.” It’s not until the seventh track “Riot Van” that things slow down to a jazzy, 60s pop ballad as Alex Turner recounts a night of young hooliganism and copper windup that ends up in the titular van.
Speaking of Alex Turner, it’s hard to have a distinctive voice in popular music, but whether he’s slithering in between lounge numbers with The Last Shadow Puppets or rocking with the Arctic Monkeys he’s got it: that singularly slippery and slightly soused vocal delivery that is unmistakable from anyone else. Which is fine on its own, but to have that voice supported by some of the best musicians I’ve heard in a band playing “silly pop songs” it transforms what could have been another band with a hit single for six months to a veteran act with six albums under their belt and still going strong despite evolving to something other than the frantic and frenetic frenzy of this debut (as we’ll see in future posts).
So much of what makes this album great for me is the percussion. Matt Helders is a timekeeping beast, and the brilliant production keeps him firmly in the spotlight on the tracks. Every track finds him working within the pocket masterfully. Then there’s the nasty fuzz tones from Jamie Cook and Turner, who are constantly finding ways to play complementing lines instead of doubling up. Each instrument, coupled with the full, up-front bass by Nick O’Malley occupy a singular space in the mix, and everything comes through so clear – it makes Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not one of my favorite albums from a purely sonic perspective. It’s a stereo tester for me, and one of the few records I tend to play from beginning to end whenever I play it.
Like I’m doing again. Right now.