Perfect Tens: The legacy of Artic Monkey’s debut album

At the turn of the century, the Internet began to dominate culture, especially in regard to music. Bands could now distribute their songs instantly to their fans through websites like the forgotten Myspace. A group of teenagers from Sheffield, England, formed the band Arctic Monkeys and started distributing their original songs online. The band included drummer Matt Helders, bassist Andy Nicholson, guitarist Jamie Cook, and singer/guitarist Alex Turner. The songs they released on the unofficial album Beneath the Boardwalk began to grow in popularity throughout England. The band rerecorded many of the songs released free to the public and started to put together an album. The release date of the record even had to be pushed forward because of the high demand for the album. On Jan. 23, 2006, Arctic Monkeys released their highly anticipated debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.

Commercial reception for the album was phenomenal. The record sold close to 120,000 copies on the first day of release, which made it the fastest selling debut album in British history. Not only did the general public love the album, but so did critics. The amazing scores which reviewers gave were coupled with many accolades, like Time’s Album of the Year. Even today many critics still highly rate this album as it was included on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums list.

Considered by many as a concept album, all the songs on the debut contain lyrics describing life as a growing adult through the perspective of a character lyricist Alex Turner creates. Whether he gives the details of a previous night at the club or his view on youth culture, Turner adds a fresh and creative twist. These impressive lyrics are coupled with fast-paced drum beats, distorted guitars playing power chords, and clever bass lines. The album gives a similar feel to punk bands of the eighties, like The Clash, but gives the songs a more complex feel by adding guitar riffs and solos over the chords. While most punk music purposely sounds like anyone could grab a guitar and make it, this record seems slightly more polished.

The album starts with the fast and loud “The View from the Afternoon.” Turner describes the aftermath of a night out and the mishaps the character got into. The regret of the character is instantly shown with his opening lyric, “Anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment in evening entertainment.” Helders provides a loud drum beat with crashing cymbals and thrashings of his snare drum, adding in fast fills in between measures. The real star of the song is the interplay of Cook and Turner. The two combine with fast-changing chords, one on beat and the other playing chords on the off beat. Everyone else drowns out for the interplay between the two guitars. The song gives a perfect idea for what the listener should expect with the rest of the album. The lead single of the album, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” starts off with distorted chords and an impressive solo. Before long, Turner takes over and sings about the club scenes at a pace just as fast as the beat. When the song goes back to the intro chords, it builds until everything cuts out for Turner to shout a capella, practically built for a crowd to shout. “Fake Tales of San Francisco” contains a riff leading the song instead of chords like the previous two. The pace is slowed just a little. For the first verse, both guitars and the bass play the same line, while the drums echo the rhythm of the riff. Both guitars stop for the chorus, while Helders gives a simple beat on his cymbals and Nicholson adds in some cool bass fills. Turner talks about bands acting differently from who they really are and criticizes the behavior. The song changes entirely for the conclusion and adds in distorted power chords and goes out with a tremendous bang.

“Dancing Shoes,” once again, is a mix of both a guitar riff and fast changing chords. Turner describes more club scenes and his character criticizes the people there. The middle contains an amazing guitar solo and continues contributing the energy the album has created so far. The next song, “You Probably Couldn’t See for the Lights, but You Were Staring Straight at Me,” has clever guitar parts similar to “The View from the Afternoon” and more criticisms of club goers. Turner continues his fast-paced lyrics, and Helders keeps up with his exciting drum fills. “Still Take You Home” rounds off the first half of the album. The song uses an intense riff which leads into a solo to begin the song, then goes to more fast-changing chords. Turner criticizes his character for only going to a club to find a love interest and leaving with someone he does not even like. The song changes pace halfway through and adds a musical interlude before a memorable conclusion. The song’s combination of fast chords, lyrics, and drum beats along with clever fills and solos make it a highlight of the album and the band’s songwriting.

The second half of the record begins with the slow “Riot Van.” The album changes the pace of high-energy recklessness to a slow feeling of remorse for their actions. Turner describes the ways his character harasses the cops and the slow pace makes the listener feel as if Turner does not approve of the behavior. The jazzy chords and soft cymbals contribute to the refreshing change of pace to the album. “Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured” goes back to the combination of chords and riffs of the first half, but keeps up with a slower pace, which was set up by “Riot Van.” Turner gives an extremely detailed recollection of the experience of standing in line waiting for a taxi. The guitar interlude in the middle provides clever interplay between Turner and Cook. The next song, “Mardy Bum” provides Turner’s view on a failing relationship for the character he has set up. The song has soft chords and a slower drum beat until the conclusion when power chords build to one of the best solos on the album. “Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong but…” goes back to the harder rock of the first half of the album and allows Helders to show off his skills on the drum set. The song has an interlude similar to that of a Zeppelin song with bongos and an interesting bass line before going back to more fast-paced chords.

“When The Sun Goes Down” starts off with Turner on his guitar strumming a single chord per measure and singing at a slower pace. Once his intro finishes, everthing goes quiet until Cook provides a loud strum from his distorted guitar. The whole band joins in and everything speeds up. The riff combined with the chords combine perfectly, Helder’s drum beat keeps up the energy the band wants, and Nicholson keeps up a cool bass line that echoes the riff. The song then stops again and goes back to Alex and his guitar for the end. “From the Ritz to the Rubble” begins with Turner spewing off lyrics at a rapid pace, but without the loud guitars. Drums kick in, then Nicholson adds his best bass line of the album. The guitars become distorted for the chorus and add further energy to the song. The best moment comes when the instruments cut out for Cook to strum solo until all the other instruments return for an epic conclusion. A fast solo and a pounding drum beat contribute to the end of one of the best songs off the album. The final song “A Certain Romance” starts off at the fast pace of the previous songs on the album before going into a slow and soft duet from the guitars. Nicholson adds another fantastic bass line while Turner criticizes the youth of Sheffield for all conforming to one lifestyle. As the song progresses Turner realizes that no matter how much he criticizes them, they will never change. The song builds to the best conclusion on the album. With crashing cymbals, an amazing guitar solo, and a nonstop bass line, the end of the album might be the best part. This song combines the best of the slow and fast aspects of the album and perfectly shows the songwriting capabilities of the band.

With much of today’s music scene being dominated by pop and rap, rock has seemed to fade away from the spotlight. This is a shame because the genre still has such great quality and appeal to it. Something about the feedback of a plugged-in guitar should appeal to the ear of anyone; it creates a raw energy that no other genre can match. The popularity of this album at the time proved that if a rock album has quality, then it can move back into the mainstream and reintroduce many to the genre. This album proved that, in Turner’s own words, “Rock and Roll will never die.”