Although lacking the pop of their debut, these UK indie rockers continue to evolve, turning out a strong batch of thorny songs on their sophomore album.
It's that time once again. So get on your dancing shoes, you sexy little Arctic Monkeys fan. That scruffy quartet of street-wise and wisecracking kids from Sheffield are back with their (cue ominous soundtrack) sophomore album. 'Tis the season for second efforts. I'm sure plenty of first and third and even ninth albums have been released thus far in 2007, but the buzz around the indie rock water cooler (well, okay, it's actually a sporadically inoperative drinking fountain mounted near a skeezy public restroom) has been all about the follow-up CDs from yesterday's hot new bands. Will we be let down by our new heroes? Or will they continue to inspire, angling toward even greater heights? Or, most realistically, will the new record hopefully not suck too much?
I'll let you off the hook right away: You don't have to worry about Favourite Worst Nightmare being a colossal disappointment. So breathe out that big sigh of relief before your face turns blue. Yeah, now you're lookin' good on that dancefloor. And Arctic Monkeys want to keep you shaking and stomping out there. To that end, they hit the grooves harder on this new disc. And those grooves are often darker and a little meaner. Leader Alex Turner has turned his gaze further outward and bears witness here to a world of damaged people. In "Balaclava", the song's protagonist is feeding a need, but he's not having a nice time: "It's more a question of feeling than it is a question of fun".
That's the fourth track on the album, and it concludes an initial run of songs with pounding rhythms and seething melodies. I get the feeling that Arctic Monkeys have tasted the bitter fruit of life. Their response is to smash the pulp right out of it. Opening cut and lead single "Brianstorm" (no, that's neither my typo nor your dyslexia) is a flurry of jagged lines and beats, capturing the portrait of a bloke who wears a "T-shirt and ties combination". To this fashion statement, Turner says, "Well, see ya later, innovator".
It isn't until "Fluorescent Adolescent" that the boys get back to the playful, loose material that predominated Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. Despite the bouncier arrangement of the track, the words are a sad portrait of a woman who's "in a very common crisis". As Turner points out to her: "You used to get it in your fishnets / Now you only get it in your nightdress". The following song, "Only Ones Who Know", syncs up mood and music with a drowsy and melancholic ditty about romance and dreams. Turner makes another nod at that most classically tragic Shakespearean teen couple, proclaiming, "I bet that Juliet was just the icing on the cake".
"If You Were There, Beware" is a killer late album track, oozing with tension and danger: "I don't know what it is that they want / But I haven't got it to give / She hasn't got it to give". On the first album, all the people were vampires. Here, they are "a circle of witches ambitiously vicious" and "serpent soul pinchers". The closing cut, "505", is another standout, all moody in its first half, with pulsating organ and spaghetti western guitar. Then the song erupts in desperation, with banging cymbals and chiming distortion.
It's a great ending to a really good album. Although not as immediately appealing as their debut, Favourite Worst Nightmare is far from a let down. Arctic Monkeys have tightened up as a band and play more powerfully than before. They're bidding to be taken more seriously with this less poppy and more aggressive second album. And they definitely hit the mark often enough. But they didn't have to dispose of their more playful side so ruthlessly. Turner flourished when giving us a wink while taking the piss out of the neighborhood idiots, all done to a catchy tune. A little more levity would have made this album another classic. Still, Arctic Monkeys continue to evolve, turning out a strong batch of thorny songs on Favourite Worst Nightmare.