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January 22, 2006
In amongst one hundred other observations, experiences and sensations charted in the Arctic Monkeys' debut Alex Turner gasps "oh how the feeling races". They may be the trendy band of the moment, but for the Arctic Monkeys the intensity of the moment is the only thing worth writing about. 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not' is an album borne out of the heightened emotional instances of youth, in a way that parts of Maximo Park's debut were last year ("the night has reached that stage again where I never want to see my home").
Confidence is written large across many of the songs, not only in the energy and eye for melody bursting from every riff and chorus. Defiance bursts from several lines ("I'm sorry officer, is there a certain age you're supposed to be?") but this is also an album about hope ("tonight there'll be some love…"), confusion (""now the haze is descending it don't make no sense any more"), self-righteous indignation ("how come its already £2.50 – we've only gone about a yard") and falling for someone ("its up, up and away").
More precisely the Arctic Monkeys' songs chronicle what its like to be old enough to know better but young enough not to care. 'Riot Van' starts with "Up rolls the riot van, and sparks confusion in the boys". Its a knowing glance at the likely course of action which anticipates the nature of "the boys"' response. We're in the territory gloriously romanticised in The Libertines' Time for Heroes ("wombles bleed, truncheons and shields – you know I cherish you my love"). But as the song goes on, Turner's lyrics reveal an empathy and captivation with the scenes of late-night town centre anarchy, until eventually we sense that rather than watching he was actually one of the group who "Got the chase last night from men with truncheons dressed in hats".
'Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured' tells a similar story from the back of a Sheffield taxi. Turner's response to a drunken fight is to find it "funny". Its the fact that he is not a jaded world-weary bystander (like say Morrissey or increasingly, Doherty) that is so refreshing and which changes the tone of his insights into the difficulty of making the step from youth to adulthood: "you're acting like silly little boys – I know you wanted to be men and do some fighting in the street"
Turner's observational stance is astonishingly precocious at times but if he demonstrates an astute insight into the world he inhabits it is clear that he has no desire to leave any time soon. On 'Still Take You Home' he acknowledges to a girl in a girl "I can't see through your fake tan", happy to give into the power of the moment. A Certain Romance's dissection of chav culture again shows Turner with his older and wiser hat on, but in this album closer loyalty to longstanding friends is more important ("though they might overstep the mark you just cannot get angry in the same way"). A glorious climax of guitars then cuts in and concludes a wonderful album with its only significant instrumental section.
Sense tells us that they cannot keep this up for ever. Songs that stand both inside and outside the spaces in which youth plays out its frenetic race towards sedentary maturity will give way to sedentary maturity. For now that doesn't matter. We've grown so used to being told that bands are for the future that it's marvellous to have one that is so powerfully about, from and of the moment.