Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
ritpop as a legitimate living breathing “useful” (useful for NME hacks fed up with Credit To The Nation, maybe) force lasted for just under three years, bookmarked at each end by the releases of two singles: “Animal Nitrate” (#7, March 1993) and “Slight Return” (#2, February 1996). By the time the summer of “Wannabe” and Gareth Southgate rolled around, it was stumbling as the walking wounded, young readers may remember nu-metal doing a similar thing in 2001. The next eighteen months were full of Blur and This Is Hardcore style autopsies. And, anyway, there's only one time where you get walking wounded: during full-blown warfare, which is what Britpop was: delayed vengeance for losses suffered during the second Battle of Saratoga. A nation of fringes with skinny people attached to them rose up in arms and Gibson Les Pauls to tackle that evil foreign menace: the grunge. Damon Albarn's interview quote “What’s Nirvana got to say? “We’re fucked up”? Big statement!” summed up the whole movement. They were angry! Sort of. But they had a well-defined enemy, whom they swiftly disposed of fully from the charts, and as with all other revolutionaries rapidly became bloated and the new establishment themselves.
Haircut indie, nu-indie, new British rock, the scene with no name (lol)... whatever you want to call this stuff. They're not rebelling against shit. They have no natural enemies, they're the red fire ants of music. And, like red fire ants, this means that they can take over quickly. They've obliterated the charts. British pop music (fuck a MIA/Rachel Stevens, I'm talking proper top five ish here) now comes in two flavours: art school dropout with regional accent or James Blunt. And forget Acoustic GI Joe for a moment, because it's all about the indie around these parts.
The Arctic Monkeys are basically the apotheosis of a slow and gradual process that began with that photo of The Strokes in the bar, progressed through White Stripes colonising mainstream radio, The Frank Ferdinands having a #2 single off the back of a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover, Kaisers, Bloc Party, death of reality pop... the Arctic Monkeys are what this has all been building up to, the money shot that Conor McNicholas has been waiting for four years, and it's about to cover his face with what's going to be a) a number one album, b) a number one album that's going to stay in the top ten for ages, c) probably one of the ten best selling albums of the year.
The Arctic Monkeys are cynical. More cynical than Menudo, S Club Juniors, or Athlete. A band who've planned every single gig, press release, hype burst, chart assault, each and every single level has gone through 50 A&R; guys and a street team with the manpower and delusion of the Elite Republican Guard. Their interviews bring to mind the implausible denials of Simpsons' mob-boss Fat Tony. “What's a publicist? What's a street team?” (“And what if your family doesn't like bread? What if they want Pulp for 12 year olds filtered through the rocks of Paul Weller?”). It's.... unpalatable.
Sure, talk about the music, but that's irrelevant here. People aren't listening to the AMs for the music, they're listening because parents just don't understand, the captain of the rugby team kicks the shit out of them every day, the other girls have bigger breasts and better skin, and it's nice to be part of a movement. Disaffected Muslim youths join the Jihad, disaffected white kids form street teams and get records to #1. The Western world eventually perishes.
Oh, alright, the music. Number one single “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor” is an acceptable enough slice of date rape indie, how the Kaiser Chiefs would sound if Ricky Wilson didn't have the girth of an MP3 blogger. Like Crazy Frog, a passable enough song rendered irritating by near ubiquity. And the problem is that we're dealing with a band who are never going to be anything less than ubiquitous from now on.
The rest of the album? That's not so good Al. Some tracks make Hard-Fi sound personable. Others fill out that “Pulp for pre-teens” jibe from earlier on, “Different Class” for morons. Prostitution is deemed a “bad” thing, small town life is miserable, and, yes, they dance, drink, and screw because there's nothing else to do.
Put it this way: do you think “Panic (Hang the DJ)” with its unique branch of bitterness, provincialism, and notions of white pride was the Smiths' best song? You'll be like a hog in shit here, then. If not... avoid. Like the plague.