Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare

Tim Miller 02/05/2007

Rating: 4.5/5

The question, 'How do you follow up an album like the Arctic Monkeys' debut?' sounds like the next E4 reality TV show, but given the record breaking - nay, shattering - success of that first album, you could be forgiven for asking it in a highly sceptical tone. It hasn't taken Alex Turner and co. long either: 'Favourite Worst Nightmare' comes just 13 months (to the day, if Amazon is to be believed) since their revolutionary 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not'. That's no problem here however, as clearly, the Monkeys have not been resting on their laurels.

They could have written another album pretty much identical to their debut and it would still have sold well, but they haven't. In that 13 months, they have matured and developed, as a band and as musicians, but all four members - gutting for wannabe bands - are still only 21 years old, astonishing for a group whose second album has as much to live up to as The Beatles did following Revolver.

The crashing opening of recent single 'Brianstorm' that exploded on to the internet, TV and radio to whet everyone's appetites is also the opening to the album, not an unwise choice as it sounds like everything Arctic Monkeys stand for, only bigger and bolder. Its drums are fast and gloriously rollicking, Turner's vocals are as observant as ever: I wonder, are you pulling us under? 'Cause we can't take our eyes off the t-shirt and ties combination, the guitars are spiky and taut, but gradually building in weight until they repeatedly pound the listener into submission, and the admission that, when all's said and done, the Arctic Monkeys really are great.

Because, essentially, this album couldn't have been made by anyone else. Its songs are short, sharp and sweet: at 12 songs long, it doesn't even hit 40 minutes, and most are done and dusted inside 3 minutes. The catchy pentatonic scale guitar and bass riffs that gave us songs like From The Ritz To The Rubble are still in evidence, notably on Teddy Picker and D is For Dangerous, tighter and more furious than before, while Alex Turner's super-syllabic vocal style and poetic rhymes have got even better, casting an ever-wry eye over the characters and events of inner city life with an assurance and command that Mike Skinner can only fantasise about.

But while that forms the basis of the Arctic Monkeys that the world embraced and fell in love with, they've moved onto new ground with it. The harmonious breakdown of Balaclava shows a more musically aware Monkeys that really shines through on this album; the reverb-drenched chords of Only Ones Who Know a brilliant exhibition of exactly how to put chords together, culminating in an indie-ballad that makes Riot Van sounds like a two-bit early demo written on a battered guitar. The twin vocals that see out Fluorescent Adolescent over its jaunty ska-infused chords and watery guitar melody yearn desperately in an effort to showcase how much more there is to these boys.

Do Me A Favour is further proof of the maturing Monkeys, the accompaniment to Turner's break-up lyrics How to tear apart the ties that bind, perhaps 'fuck off', might be too kind revealing a depth to the words that didn't quite prosper on the arrangements of, say, first album's Dancing Shoes or Mardy Bum. The picked guitar lines in The Bad Thing that dance over punchy chords harks back to I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, but those precious months spent working on their sound means this reinvention of a similar format makes more of a splash further down the tracklisting, as part of the album whole rather than standing alone as an obvious radio friendly single.

In places, such as the discordant This House is a Circus, messrs Turner, Cook, O'Malley and Helders stumble a little, pointedly sounding a far cry from the easy on the ear riff of Fake Tales of San Francisco, and towards the end of the album doubt starts creeping in, especially given the final tracks of Whatever People Say…, which yielded 3 giant singles. But the melancholic crescendo throughout the song 505 that closes this album sounds like the sort of thing Arcade Fire would come up with if restricted to using only Pete Doherty's instruments, and the doubts disappear as you reflect back on what you've just heard.

Favourite Worst Nightmare is undeniably the Arctic Monkeys, but they haven't been monkeying around on the back of their runaway success. This second album has taken the best bits of that debut, the bits that bands like The View are just cottoning on to, and immersed them in (only) a year's more experience, resulting in a musically mature sound, their hooks and riffs just one weapon in their armoury, their lyrics funnier and even more daring, their songs bigger and bolder, more rounded and collectively complimentary. If their debut revolutionised the music industry and the crossover between underground, mainstream, rock and pop, Favourite Worst Nightmare goes to show how the bar can be reset again. They've only been away for little over a year, but the Arctic Monkeys have returned, with consummate ease, to reclaim their crown.