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January 22, 2006

Arctic Monkeys: Band of the Moment

5 out of 5 stars

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.

December 29, 2005

I Get To Be Myself And I Get to Sing

I would have waited until February 6th but if I'm going to sing along at Brum Academy I need it now, surely?

(It's brilliant by the way)

Chocolate on the boil, steamy windows when we met

September 13, 2005

Help: A Day in the Life

4 out of 5 stars

I was surprised that considering the number of hits the website had received on Friday, only 4000 had downloaded this by Monday lunchtime – is everyone waiting for the CD copy? Like the previous Help album ten years ago it serves not only as a great way of making money but also an interesting snapshot of the state of British music.

Despite all the trendy 2005 bands here it is Radiohead that open Help: A Day in the Life with their first new song since the Go To Sleep b-sides 2 years ago - providing a reason for me to download straight away rather than wait for the CD. I Want None of This is a Radiohead ballad - ie very nice. The 3/4 time signature and We Suck Young Blood style 'ooh ooh's give it something a little different.

At the other end of the quality scale Keane's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Kaiser Chiefs' Heard it Through the Grapevine should be saved from too many disparaging comments by that fact that both bands participated in order to help young victims of conflict across the globe. That I've lost patience with Kaiser Chiefs is nothing to do with their involvement here.

Better is the Magic Numbers' Gone Are the Days or Baby Shambles From Bollywood to Battersea which displays Doherty's penchant for indie-boy skiffle-pop (recently showcased on excellent b-side East of Eden). Coldplay's How You See the World No 2 is nice in an unmemorable kind of way whilst The Coral's It Was Nothing is one of the more immediate songs on this collection, and better than much of The Invisble Invasion. Bloc Party and Maximo Park's contributions meanwhile don't exactly give much away as regards their second albums - neither track heralds a new direction but neither is terrible. Mylo's Mars Needs Women and the Go Team!'s Phantom Broadcast are the kind of excellently-put together stuff they've become recognised for this year and Hard-Fi's Help Me Please does them no harm in their gradual campaign to win me round.

Six bands join Radiohead in offering something that jumps out and sounds like it's more than just an album track or b-side. Use of backing singers on Razorlight's Kirby's House make it an unexpected treat. And the compilers haven't shied away from the usual comparisons between the two Scouser bands by putting The Zutons after The Coral in the tracklisting, and the former do better out of the arrangement. Hello Conscience is a gem - the saxophone is let loose and you get the impression that they had a ball recording it. And I didn't expect to say this but the Manics' Leviathian proves there's life in the old dog yet. The quality of Elbow's contribution is less of a surpise. Snowball can be filed in the 'understated song that , er, snowballs (sorry!) to tumultious ace-ness' folder next to past singles Grace Under Pressure and Newborn. Less catchy than Fix You's current use of the same formula, but certainly more subtle. Its origins as a letter to Tony Blair in the build-up to the Iraq War also gains the band brownie points for thematic relevence. And Hong Kong sees Damon Albarn follow I Am Kloot in discovering that playing the black notes on a piano creates a generic kind of oriental melody to justify being named after the now-Chinese city. He does it far more intelligently though, but then that's why he has been successful in whatever he's turned his hand to whilst Kloot remain perennial gig circuit journeymen. And who else would come up with a title like The Eighth Station of the Cross Kebab House than Belle and Sebastian? Great band and a great little fable in song-form from officially the 'Best Scottish band of All Time' (in a poll that obviously came a bit to early for Franz Ferdinand who would presumably were they to re-run it now).

Joining Gorillaz in offering some depth and variety are Tinariwen and Emmanuel Jal. Both have treated this album with respect by contributing two of the best tracks to what would be something of an indie fest without them. Meanwhile George and Antony's War Is Over is unseasonal but fits the cause so we can perhaps brush over any flaws, and it's nice to see the Mercury Prize winner alongside the other usual suspects here.

It would be lazy to be cynical about the artists' involvement because this collection deserves more than the rather obvious moral judgements you could make. It's a decent if unspectacular bunch of songs, with only a few unwelcome inclusions (one of which I haven't discussed – I'll leave that to people who don't think the world would be a better place without Damien Rice's music). It's only £9.99, and I don't think it's overly idealistic to suggest that that £9.99 might just help Warchild to make a bit of difference to someone's life. Individual tracks are available for 99p, but why not get all 22?

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