- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

Same drive, new depth on ‘it’ band’s second album

Arctic Monkeys

Favourite Worst Nightmare

Domino Records

It’s hard to keep up with all the “it” bands that have been popping out of Great Britain in the past several years. Franz Ferdinand, the Futureheads, Bloc Party, the Kaiser Chiefs — all have been hailed as the next big thing. In truth, each is a separate swell in a perfect storm raging across the Atlantic. We are in the midst of perhaps the most fertile harvest of British music since post-punk exports such as Gang of Four, the Fall and the Mekons crashed on American shores.

Even by the standards of the current crop, the Arctic Monkeys, a quartet with roots in the industrial precincts of Sheffield, have enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the pops. Their 2006 debut album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” offered a mix of hard-edged beats and caustic lyrics. Their new album, “Favourite Worst Nightmare,” continues in much the same vein.

The songs here are richer and more densely layered than in their previous effort. The first track, “Brianstorm,” kicks off with two jangly, fiercely driving guitars and doesn’t let up. Singer-guitarist Alex Turner, who gets sole songwriting credit for most of the numbers, operates within a fairly narrow vocal range and sings with an unapologetically thick Yorkshire accent that does not admit to short “u” sounds. His singing is both menacing and authoritative. The lyrics come hard and fast — he barely has time to draw breath on the first 60 seconds of “Balaclava,” a thumping, bass-heavy track that keeps a speed-metal beat.

The influence of new bassist Nick O’Malley is felt on “Florescent Adolescent.” Mr. O’Malley, who replaced founding member Andy Nicholson, offers a bouncy, ska-inflected bass line on this rueful song about the aftermath of fleeting youth, when “the best you ever had is just a memory/and those dreams/weren’t as daft as they seem.”

Mr. Turner’s lyrics take an even darker turn on “If You Were There, Beware,” which examines the casual cruelty that often accompanies the need to “fill column inches.” Mr. Turner sings, with fanged contempt: “There’s a circle of witches, ambitiously vicious they are/And our attempts to remind them of reason won’t get us that far.” Unlike the typical prickly-reaction-to-sudden-fame song that often appears on a successful band’s sophomore album, it seems less the product of pique than evidence of deeply felt rage.

“Favourite Worst Nightmare” isn’t all sonic wrath and hard guitar. “Only Ones Who Know” is a finely wrought lament that pairs an uncharacteristically sweet vocal line by Mr. Turner with the haunting twang of a pedal-steel guitar. Mr. Turner’s lyrics gently parody the flawed intensity of vacation romance with lines such as, “And I bet she told a million people that she’d stay in touch/But all the little promises that don’t mean much/When there’s memories to be made.”

Mr. Turner writes with impressive range, depth and compassion for someone who just turned 21 in January. It can be difficult to pick up on the nuances of the lines because of Mr. Turner’s accent and mile-a-minute delivery, but the careful listener will be rewarded.

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