Sunday, 19 April 2015

'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not' - Revisited

Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys released their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not on the 23rd of January 2006 to critical acclaim, and in it’s first week alone it sold over 360,000 copies, making it the fastest-selling debut album by a British band of all time. WPSIATWIN is an album that has inspired a generation of new songwriters, and the modern classic is now approaching it’s tenth birthday.

The album is somewhat of a concept album, as it chronicles a typical night out in the North of England. It takes both it’s name and it’s theme from Alan Sillitoe’s novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which documents a night out and it’s fallout. On relistening, I came to the realisation that not much has changed on a night out up North in ten years - arguments with a cabbie, everybody’s ulterior motive of trying to pull, being turned down by (and subsequently arguing with) bouncers - these subject matters are very relevant even now. The teenage population of the country instantly took to Arctic Monkeys because their words are all too relatable - in ‘Riot Van’, Turner spits a story of an encounter with a Police Officer, which sounds word for word exactly like an experience a group of friends and I had at sixteen years old. 

One track that stands out to me is fan-favourite ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’. There’s a certain irony listening to the song nowadays. The song pokes fun at a local band for acting like they are from the United States - seen in lyrics such as ‘Yeah i’d love to tell you all my problem/You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham’  - but arguably, this is exactly what Alex Turner et al. have evolved into. They were once four cheeky working class teenagers from the North of England, but in recent times they have become Elvis Presley lookalikes laden with leather and hair grease, complete with faux American accents. It’s sad to see what they have become - that they have forgotten where they come from, even though it was such a defining characteristic of their early work that helped them become the superstars they now are. 

As disappointing as it is that the indie-rock heroes have become the American wannabe’s that they are now, they still have a very intriguing style of writing lyrics. It’s interesting to compare how Alex Turner has developed as a songwriter, and how he describes similar situations ten years apart. In ’Still Take You Home’, he sings ’I can’t see through your fake tan/and you know it for a fact that everybody’s eating out of your hands’. Eight years on, in ‘Arabella’ on the latest album AM, he stresses the same sentiment but in a much less obvious way - ‘Arabella’s got some interstellar-gator skin boots/And a helter-skelter round her little finger/And I ride it endlessly’ - you can’t help but think that if this was 2006, he’d have just said ‘You’re wrapped ‘round her little finger, mate’. Turner’s current persona is often criticised, but you have to admit that his songs are still brilliant - whether he’s bluntly barking tales of a taxi queue with his dry northern wit, or crooning about a love interest in psychedelic, near-undecipherable terms, backed by the deep sultry voice of Nick O’Malley and the sharp falsetto of Matt Helders. 

WPSIATWIN influenced a lot of music in the years following 2006. They were predominantly responsible for making strong regional accents acceptable in pop music - artists like Lily Allen and Kate Nash appeared in the mainstream not too long after it’s release. They also helped start a new wave of indie music that all had a very distinct sound that included dry vocals and trebly guitars, with bands such as The Cribs and The Kooks all enjoying relative success. Just take a listen to the soundtrack to ‘The Inbetweeners’ and you’ll hear the best of the mid-00’s indie that Arctic Monkeys helped become the norm. 

WPSIATWIN has been one of my all time favourite albums since it’s release, cementing itself as a must-have in any indie kid’s record collection, and it helped shape my music taste for years to come. Since I turned eighteen it has become even more relatable than it was on first listening, and has become the soundtrack to many drunken nights on the town. Finally, We all have one thing to be thankful for - had the Arctic Monkeys not released WPSIATWIN when they did, then we might have been stuck with Kaiser Chiefs as the face of British indie music.

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