Welcome to this week’s installment of “Dom finally listens to albums the world has been raving about for years.” I don’t think it’s possible to have avoided The Arctic Monkeys. I can almost promise that someone you know is fascinated by them. I had a sense of their popularity, but I didn’t realize that what I was about to experience is the fastest selling British debut album of all time. Whatever People Say received a moderate yet impressive reception in North America, but across the pond, Whatever People Say was a smash, selling 1.5 million copies as opposed to 300,000 in the US. The only introduction I can offer this album: it may be the most British thing I’ve ever heard!
I still don’t know whether that qualifier is positive or negative, but why does it have to be one or the other? I’m going to be getting through a few requests in the upcoming weeks. That includes next week, which will feature an album I said I wouldn’t listen to, so stay tuned!
Onto the Englishness of it all. It’s unavoidable. It’s not just Alex Turner’s ridiculous Yorkshire accent. The album hits with an aggressiveness and bluntness that’s almost reminiscent of The Sex Pistols. It borders the line between raw and polished, crude and intelligent, unruly and structured. I absolutely LOVE the way the guitars sound. There isn’t enough pure single-coil guitar in music anymore. It’s so biting and articulated and serves the music very well. I’m still not entirely sold on the roominess of the drums, but it adds to the band’s youthful club culture.
See, I used the word youthful, but I could have just of easily said immaturity, which litters the album in subtle ways. The boys aren’t exactly the best musicians. They may write a fantastic melody, and the drummer is more than capable of flourishing a steady beat, but that only emphasizes sloppy timing inconsistencies with the guitars, and some careless vocal phrasing.
See, but then it hit me. This is real rock and roll!
I’m an admitted member of the club of bemoaners who’ve accepted the death of rock music. It’s not that there isn’t good rock-based music anymore, but it usually partially falls under other categories that coddle the music. I don’t want “indie rock” or “pop rock” or what have you. Most of it lacks substance and originality. For example: I’m not a Sheepdogs fan. They brought back an old style and sound without adding new unique elements. It doesn’t feel fresh, and it doesn’t stand out to me. But Whatever People Say really does. And isn’t that the spirit of rock and roll? We need to go on a (very) minor history lesson and approach this from a different perspective.
When Led Zeppelin released the now infamous Led Zeppelin I, Jimmy Page was 23 years old, and Robert Plant was 21. If I were to listen to that album as a piece of new music released today, I’d definitely have qualms with the sloppy playing and unrefined sound. But there was a unique quality that came across in the music. It was kids who didn’t give a damn! It was an album that captured the voice of a generation in a way that was larger than itself, yet still relatable to the masses. Let’s be honest, who didn’t (doesn’t) want to be a rock star at some point?
Am I comparing Whatever People Say to Led Zeppelin I? Yes, in the sense that it exemplifies the nature of rock music in a way that’s lost among many modern bands, and does so in a very unabashed manner. It’s not afraid to make you dance. It’s not afraid to be raw, and it’s not afraid to be dissonant. There’s a lovely moment of ugliness during the bridge of Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong that I would not have expected to hear on an album that can get poppy.
I realize I haven’t gone as in-depth as I tend to do with these reviews, but I don’t feel I’ve left anything off the table. Actually, typing this review made me realize just how much I enjoyed Whatever People Say. It won’t convince the stubborn rock guitar player who thinks rock music died in the 80’s, but this album will become a rock classic in the same way all of our favourite albums did in their respective eras. Music has changed drastically over the past 40 years. What was once the satan-worshipping heavy metal of Black Sabbath now gets played on classic rock radio. Whatever People Say is a driving conglomeration of everything that embodies the spirit of rock and roll with just the right amount of modern influence. (And like most good rock music, I really didn’t care for this album the first time I listened through it. Give music a chance. Keep an open mind!)