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“We’re Arctic Monkeys and this is 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor'. Don’t believe the hype.”
Believe it or not, Alex Turner uttered those words over a decade ago. Since then, they’ve arguably become the biggest British band since Oasis and Blur.
Two years after their monumental first LP, they returned with songs full of introspective lyrics and a more robust production. ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ arrived with the unparalleled pressure of following up to ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’. And those who didn’t believe the hype might have expected failure. How very wrong they were. ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ might not be as iconic as their first album, but 10 years later, it's sounds the better record.
On December 23, it was reported that Arctic Monkeys were back in Sheffield to work on a new album together. Prior to this, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr had become inundated with photos of Alex, Matt, Jamie and Nick spotted around the city. Keen admirers of Arctic Monkeys probably thought Christmas had come early.
It’s a rare sighting of the band back on their home turf, who have rightfully moved on from songs about taxi trouble in High Green and Hillsborough to scene setting lyrics of the Los Angeles nightlife. There is, however, something wonderful about seeing the band back together in Sheffield, which even LA’s sun-kissed scenery can’t match.
Denzil Watson, singer of Sheffield post-punk band RepoMen, has solid connections in the steel city music scene. ‘’I remember when Alex Turner used to serve me at The Boardwalk, where they played their gigs, before he went on stage,’’ he says. The famous venue of the band’s salad days has sadly closed since, an unfortunate sign of the times. Arctic Monkeys' song 'Beneath the Boardwalk’ was shared through emerging social media such as Myspace, as file sharing and streaming started to change the music industry.
Arctic Monkeys came onto the scene during emergence of streaming services, which was crucial to their success, Denzil recalls: ‘’The planets just aligned for them, and they got big very, very quickly. The first album blew the doors off, and the second album proved that it wasn’t just a one-off’’.
After first attending a Monkeys gig back in March 2005, a time in which the gigs had started to have a feeling of euphoria around them, it was clear Sheffield had found something special. ‘’The music struck a chord with the whole crowd, who were just singing back at them.’’
In 2007, Denzil reviewed a Monkeys gig at the 900-capacity Leadmill in Sheffield, just after the release of ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’. By this point, they’d by far surpassed being your average Sheffield band. “If truth be told, the band could have sold out two nights at the arena, let alone the Leadmill.”
It was becoming increasingly difficult to get to the gigs at this point. Even the touts didn’t have tickets. ‘’I had a friend over from China who was a massive Arctic Monkeys fan who wanted to go (to the Leadmill)," says Denzil. "But there were simply no tickets whatsoever, and she just couldn’t go." It was getting all the more evident that they would soon become a stadium act. Later that year, the Monkeys went on to headline Glastonbury.
‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ opens with ‘Brianstorm’, a song which, despite the lyrical quirk, undoubtedly belongs to drummer Matt Helders. The song was one of the Monkey’s heaviest to date, and one review compared its sound to ‘’Josh Homme’s personal herd of Rhinos."
It would be rude to look past some of the album’s quieter moments, with songs such as ‘Only Ones Who Know’, and ‘Do Me a Favour’ showcasing Alex Turner’s ability to churn out Morrissey-esque lyrics of young romance and doomed relationships. The album feels much more rhythmic than its anthem-lead predecessor, with each song taking the time to explore new avenues. It all builds up to the heartfelt crescendo of ‘505’, a song which sees Turner move into lyrical territories that have stayed with him since.
A decade later, the album still provides the replay quality that’s the signature of any great band. It holds up well today, and it’s evident that they were a lot more ‘world wise’ than on their debut. “With ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, it isn’t pinned down to Sheffield at a particular time like the first one was, and it hasn’t dated as much," says Denzil In retrospect, there’s something strangely relevant about the maturing lyrics of ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’, a song in which Turner (21 at the time), looks back on his adolescence with the realisation of the responsibility that comes with getting older.
After the success of ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, Monkeys headed out into the desert to work with Josh Homme on ‘Humbug’ (2009). It was arguably the band’s most dividing album, but one that was pivotal to the development of their much more American aesthetic. Following albums ‘Suck it and See’ (2011) and ‘AM’ (2013) have seen the band move even further away from their Sheffield foundations, but they certainly have the same stature as fellow locals Pulp, Richard Hawley and The Human League. “I was in the middle of Peru once and when I told someone I was from Sheffield, and they went ‘Oh, Arctic Monkeys’. It just shows you how popular they are.’’ Their accents might be starting to lose their trademark Yorkshire twang, but Denzil insists that Alex Turner is still “very much a local lad.”
Eagle-eyed fans will have also understood the significance of ‘0114’ (Sheffield’s dialling code) worn proudly on Matt Helders’ bass drum on recent tours. Monkeys’ reappearance in Sheffield for new material implies familiarity, but this is a band who have always refused to sit still, so don’t get your hopes up for another ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’. Instead, re-visit the album, whic remains a proverbial classic.
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George Haigh reflects on the Arctic Monkeys' history and examines their second album ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year
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