LET’S NOT BEAT around the bush. If asked what the most important/best debut of the last 10 years has been, a lot of people would say Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Even outside of the NME, musical commentators were quick to pick up on the outstanding potential four lads from Sheffield had, as did the public. Whatever People Say I Am… shot to the top of the charts upon release, as did its lead single, ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’. In fact, the album remains the fastest selling debut album by a band, proving once again that, even in the iTunes age, albums still hold their ground.
So what exactly was it about this album that made critics and the public squirm with delight? Well, first off, there was the music itself. Arctic Monkeys were part of a long line of British bands to emerge in the Noughties, with debuts that shook the rock world. Slicker than The Libertines, less pop than Franz Ferdinand, and more true than Bloc Party, Whatever People Say I Am… was British Rock and Roll that The Rolling Stones would be proud of. After the adrenaline rush of the garage rock revival, there was something more paced about Arctic Monkeys; the sound was more refined, cleaner. The snarl of garage was replaced by the wise-crack of Alex Turner.
Which leads me on to the lyrics of this album. Anyone who’s ever set in foot in a night club will be able to relate to these words. Turner’s no-nonsense view on Northern night-life are second to none. No one is safe; not the bouncers, the police, the taxi drivers, the drunk idiots or that hot girl making eyes at you from the bar. All are poked and prodded by Turner’s wit, almost to the point of character assassination, only just stopping short of the ultimate level of ‘Morrissey’. But it’s all 100% true, and that’s what makes Whatever People Say I Am… so popular; because you can sit on the train listening to this album and say: “Yes! That’s totally correct!” before promptly trying to replicate what you’ve been listening to.
It’s no surprise then that this album won the prestigious Mercury award, beating the likes of Thom Yorke, Muse and Editors. “Someone call 999, Richard Hawley’s been robbed,” Turner quipped at the ceremony, evidently surprised by the album’s critical success. But even as the album celebrates its ninth birthday (in before the 10th next year), it’s still topping charts. Clash Magazine recently named it the fourth best album since 2004, beaten only by Kanye West, Radiohead and Arcade Fire. Even the Americans loved it, with the ever nostalgic Rolling Stone including it in their latest ‘Best Albums Ever’ list.
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is perhaps one of the last true great Rock and Roll albums. The band transposed what they dub ‘great tunes’ over a backdrop of drunk mistakes and violence. They had their success post-debut, and continue to be one of the UK’s most popular bands, but nothing really eclipsed the triumphant first album. ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, ‘Mardy Bum’ and ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ still get the crowds going at gigs and clubs alike, showing just how timeless they are.
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