Hype’s a bitch. This holds especially true in Britain, where the music media crowns a new “next big thing” on a monthly basis. One second a group struggles to have more than eight friends on their MySpace page. The next they grace the top of the charts. Just ask current Brit wonders Klaxons – they went from no names to NME-tour headliners.
For a country partially responsible for ushering in the glorious reigns of groups like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Bloc Party, it’s funny to think Arctic Monkeys are this generation’s Oasis. Last year the Sheffield quartet sprung out of nowhere (okay, their MySpace page) and shot to the top of the British music scene, backed by an avalanche of hype and a perfect score from NME. The band’s debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, became the fastest-selling album ever in England, and NME even named it the fifth-best British album. Of all time. Ahead of LPs by The Clash and Radiohead. Think about that.
Because at their core, Arctic Monkeys didn’t add anything new to the British sound spectrum. The group played typical Britpop, not unlike the 90s output of Oasis or Blur. The only twist to the conventional formula was instead of singing about Wonderwalls or bisexual kids on vacation, Arctic Monkeys’ tales centered around clubbing, dancing and other cornerstones of contemporary British life. Basically, they are the rock-’n'-roll version of The Streets.
A year later and a record-smashing debut behind them, Arctic Monkeys now face the daunting task of staying relevant. As expected, new over-hyped bands have hit the scene, and the aforementioned Klaxons have changed it, ushering in the “new rave” movement. Arctic Monkeys’ sophomore effort, the poorly titled Favourite Worst Nightmare, is bound to lose them some fans, as the band has tweaked their sound ever so slightly, moving away from traditional Britpop fare to a more aggressive style. Here’s the catch – Nightmare sounds miles better than their debut, and actually has more social relevance than Whatever People Say.
Arctic Monkeys’ debut received widespread praise for its lyrics about gritty tales of life as a youngin’ in London. Nightmare still touches on these same themes, but accomplishes a lot more sonically. The songs here sound like they were made with the purpose of hitching a cart to the new rave bandwagon piloted by Klaxons. Lead track and single “Brianstorm” sums up Arctic Monkeys’ sped-up change. Opening with whitewater-speed guitar and drums, the track sounds like it was peeled straight off Klaxons’ Myths of the Near Future: all fast-paced tempo with bouncy lyrics that aren’t vital to the song. “Brianstorm” ushers in the new Arctic Monkeys, and introduces us to the most interesting aspect of the new album — what the state of British music is right now. The answer: a rave-loitered landscape ripe with indie rock groups.
The band’s rapid pace streams throughout Nightmare. “Teddy Picker” plows forward just as fast as “Brianstorm,” and features a bizarre portion where the Monkeys imitate The Offspring — and somehow sound damn good doing it. The oooh-stained “D is for Dangerous” (quick aside — one thing the group hasn’t learned is how to name songs well. Most of the titles on this album read like rejected action-novel titles) continues the guitar assault, and ends up one of the album’s most danceable tracks. Most impressive, “Old Yellow Bricks” somehow references The Wizard of Oz, remains racecar-speed fast and sounds great.
Nightmare’s most glaring problem, and also the most obvious grievance of British music right now, is that after awhile the tracks start swirling together. Alone, every fast-paced track sounds solid, but one after another they start becoming the same routine. “This House is a Circus” features stabs of guitar and quick drumming, while “If You Were There, Beware” does the same thing, except ever so slightly slower. After a bit, everything sort of sounds the same. Probably not intentional, but a problem nonetheless.
The ravey tracks rock, but in an odd twist of fate, the Britpop-sounding tracks outshine the others this time around. The two slow ditties on Nightmare both excel. “Only Ones Who Knows” mopes in an old-timey melancholy varnish, Arctic Monkeys’ most touching song to date. Album closer “505” seems suited for speedy highway drives to reminisce about lost loves, as lead singer Alex Turner imagines a lover awaiting him “lying on your side / with your hands between your thighs.” The song strikes the perfect balance between a daydreamy romance and sadness, since said girl may only exist in his mind. The Monkeys grow up a bit on Nightmare, and it’s nice to see.
Nightmare’s best moment is the past-looking “Fluorescent Adolescent.” Opening with guitar riffs straight out of a 1950s jukebox, the song quickly transforms into a faster jaunt, a sped-up version of Whatever People Think’s finest track “Mardy Bum.” The group creates a pop beauty, and the paradox of the year thus far. Somehow, Turner crafts some of his best lovelorn lyrics in the same song he utters the most cringe-worthy line of 2007 (“Falling about/You took a left on Last Laugh Lane/You’re just sounding it out/But you’re not coming back again”). One horrid lyric and song title aside, “Fluorescent Adolescent” stands as one of the young group’s greatest pieces yet.
Arctic Monkeys’ sped-up approach works wonders on Nightmare, creating an LPs worth of great dance numbers which double as awesome rockers. Whether the band made Nightmare as an odd commentary on English music or as an effort to cash in on the new-rave craze doesn’t matter. Klaxons coined the “new rave” moniker and landed a novelty tour gig. Arctic Monkeys’ above-solid sophomore record legitimizes the once-scoffed-at genre, giving the lightstick-frayed sound a serious sonic shot in the arm. With Britain’s hottest young band behind it, new rave’s got some cred and, if it continues to feature music like the Monkeys’, it deserves it.