All-time favourites /// Arctic Monkeys ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ [Album] 2006

Arctic Monkeys

There are not so many debut albums that can genuinely make history, break all the possible records and create a huge buzz around them. Arctic Monkeys managed to create this hurricane of an album which was their debut ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’. It became the fastest-selling debut album in the history of British music and second fastest-selling indie debut in the American one and turned Arctic Monkeys into indie superstars. So, what exactly is this album?

The release of ‘Whatever People Say’ was preceded by a huge online buzz created by the band. Literally, people were going bonkers over Arctic Monkeys when the debut wasn’t even there. There’s no surprise then that on its landing on 23rd January 2006, which was a week earlier than originally planned, the record sales rocketed like crazy. Internet did play a huge role in such a take off of Monkeys, but, let’s be honest: if you write bad music, nothing will help you to push your band to such impressive heights.

‘Whatever People Say’ is very different from lush, intense indie created by Arctic Monkeys today. Frantic, fiery guitars drive this record. Straightforward and in-your-face, they fill the whole space with their reckless energy, shine bright and are full of grit. It’s purely a carnival of music, a soundtrack to your busy life full of adventures, which breathes the air of rebellion. The band are just having the time of their lives playing it and of course I don’t need to mention you can dance you feet off to it. Just think ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ or ‘Dancing Shoes’ or ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ or whatever you prefer from the album and you’re settled for a party. The nonchalance and youthful exuberance of ‘Whatever People Say’ set the tones perfectly and drive the album fast forward without looking back. Just like a fizzy drink, it’s sparkling and ever-dynamic, so you won’t get bored.

Arctic Monkeys were very young and bold when they were making ‘Whatever People Say’, so the album topics revolving around the lives of clubbers in Sheffield with all its aspects are not surprising: the band told the stories they were well familiar with. If this sounds trivial to you, don’t hurry up to brush the album off as such because there are different ways of talking about one thing. In case of Arctic Monkeys, nightlife is deprived of its false glamour and presented with blunt honesty, revealing the most notorious and vulgar things about it. It was noted by quite a few of reviewers that Alex Turner possesses good observant skills and they have a point here. The way he talks about clubbing and clubbers in a witty, poisonous, sarcastic or cynical way shows him as a great master of not only observing, but also of writing art. This guy is never short for words, so don’t mess with him.

Upon the release of the album, there were a lot of labels put on Arctic Monkeys. But labels are for boxes and pigeonholing Monkeys is a genuinely bad idea. For one reason, they never were ashamed of their origins and got the whole world familiar with Yorkshire accent. It was, and it still is, all about keeping their own identity and demonstrating it openly to the world. This identity of theirs also showed in the way the musicians skillfully used Internet for spreading the word about their music: they risked it, they won and they drank their well-deserved champagne.

‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ marked the beginning of Arctic Monkeys’ road to the top of indie culture in the world and when one begins the way in such a massive manner, things just can’t go wrong.

I asked my fellow writer Richard Warrell (who you can follow on Twitter here) about ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ and that’s what he told me:

When the Arctic Monkeys first broke out, it seemed as if they exploded practically overnight. At the time, the band was presented as a true home-grown act, a band that had blown up and garnered huge record sales without major television or radio coverage. Credit was instead given to the band’s popular MySpace following and their encouraging fans to use file-sharing services to spread their demos across the internet.

This is not strictly true – the band had been featured prominently in the NME for several months leading up to the release of their first single, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and they were on the cover of the influential magazine a few weeks before the single’s release. Remember also that in the mid-2000s, the indie revival resurrected the NME’s reputation for being able to make or break a band’s fortunes. The band’s supposedly super-underground record label, Domino, had already had major success with Franz Ferdinand and by acting as a UK distributor for Josh Homme’s Queens of the Stone Age via their Rekords Rekords imprint. It was still very impressive when the single debuted at #1 in the UK charts, but hardly the miracle it was hailed as.

One area in which the band truly were ahead of the curve was their use of iTunes. The UK singles charts started incorporating downloads into their charts in April 2005 and when “Dancefloor” dropped in October 2005, there were still relatively few bands competing alongside Arctic Monkeys for domination of the digital market.

I am sure there were a few cool indie kids who were aware of the coming storm, but for most of Britain, there was a day when no one had heard of Arctic Monkeys and another day, 24 hours later, when everyone knew exactly who they were thanks to “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” topping the singles charts. A few months later, a second #1, “When the Sun Goes Down” followed. Indie rock had been on the rise for years in the wake of the Libertines, but the Arctic Monkeys were the first true “phenomenon” rock band since Oasis. All this bounced off me completely at the time – I was firmly a heavy metal kid at the time and casually shrugged off pop music. I recognised that most mainstream rock bands were wet, corporate-sponsored, radio-friendly, middle-class kids playing at being rock stars without a shred of credibility – and the forced, over-emphasised attempts at appearing authentic of indie bands them the worst of the lot.

When I grew up a bit and became more open-minded, it occurred to me that just because pop culture zealots mindlessly listen to what Radio 1 tells them to, that does not mean that every single band to gain mainstream popularity is bad. I heard that the legendary Josh Homme, of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age fame, was producing the third Arctic Monkeys album, “Humbug”. Curious, I investigated and was impressed at the refined, ambitious music on the album. I decided to backtrack through the band’s career, eventually reaching their debut, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” and was met with the most compelling album of their career.

Perhaps not as creative, grandiose or professional as the band’s more recent releases, the band’s debut compensates with a frantic, youthful, punk-like energy that made them true successors to the Libertines. The band had the “it factor”. Their path to greatness might have been more establishment-approved than people like to acknowledge, but the Arctic Monkeys’ talent is all their own, and that shines through far more clearly on the rough, unpolished masterpiece that is “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”.

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  1. […] Monkeys have gone a long way since their stunningly successful debut ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ saw the light of day. But instead of becoming yet another boring indie band or disappearing into […]

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