Two years ago, a friend and I were hanging out in his room, talking about how third year of university was kicking our butts, when his younger sister walked in the room. She told us about how she just bought tickets to go see the Arctic Monkeys who were coming that summer to play the Molson Amphitheatre.
“Wait,” my friend said to his sister, “do you even know any songs by the Arctic Monkeys?”
“Yeah, they’re that new band that plays ‘Do I Wanna Know’.”
My friend and I exchanged looks. To hear the Arctic Monkeys described as “that new band that plays ‘Do I Wanna Know’” was a grave injustice to us. The Arctic Monkeys had managed to attract a new generation of fans with their 2013 hit single, but some of these fans didn’t know that they had been around for a long time, or that they released one of the best albums of the 21st century.
Their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was released in the UK on January 23, 2006. I was in grade 7 at the time and remember seeing them perform “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” on Saturday Night Live probably a couple of months after the album release. My first thought – what kind of name is that for a band? My second thought – whoa, these guys are really good. That performance captivated me.
I spent my next few lunches and a lot of my class time in my elementary school library listening to the album on the school computers. I bought the album at HMV a couple of days later and it spent enough time spinning away in my portable CD player. As a kid who grew up in the internet music sharing era, I don’t own many physical CDs, unfortunately. But this is one of the few albums I saved up for. It quickly became one of my favourite albums ever, and has stayed that way up until this very day.
Whatever is now 10 years old. As an introduction to the band, the album continues to impress on every listen. The Arctic Monkeys gave us music we had been missing – alternative rock, full of punk rock attitude and youthful energy. The album succeeds in painting a picture of adolescent boredom and overall indifference. Drinking too much, regretting late night texts and voicemails, getting kicked out of bars, causing trouble just for kicks, meeting prostitutes and pimps. Whatever is a story of a group of kids/young adults just trying to find meaning and excitement in a city that has little to offer. It’s an experience and feeling that many of us can easily relate to.
As intriguing as the stories are, the album is also brilliant in terms of its sound. The production is top-notch – from the opening song, “View From The Afternoon”, you know you’re in for a ride. It’s a track that turns you into a professional drummer the second it starts playing. The entire first half of the album is full of other high energy, upbeat songs like this one. The Arctic Monkeys also did a good job of showing they can slow it down on songs like “Riot Van” and “Mardy Bum”.
One of the best songs on the album, and my personal favourite, “From the Ritz to the Rubble” is the second last track. It’s a song about getting into a fight with a bouncer and having an overall bad night out. The first half of the track builds up the tension and aggression between drunk club-goer and authoritarian bouncer, while the second half describes the morning after and the confusion and shame that comes with it. The dark humour and straightforwardness of it all is brilliant and classic Arctic Monkeys.
The album comes to an end with “A Certain Romance”, a song that Alex Turner was once in the middle of performing on SNL when he singled out a guy in the audience for yawning. It starts off a little slow, but as the song bounces along it builds up momentum, culminating in a great ending jam. The beauty of this song is how it reflects on the whole album. It gives us a final understanding of the town the albums’ characters live in, not just the physical setting but the emotional setting as well. And if you can understand the overall environment surrounding the album, then you can understand the music in it.
Since the release of their first album, the Arctic Monkeys have gone on to have an extremely successful career. All of their albums have debuted at #1 in the UK, and they have won several awards. Their sound has progressed from album to album, and AM is definitely a solid listen. It’s no wonder these guys are still attracting fans today. The music now is definitely different than the music on Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. But then again, how can you not expect the music to change when the scenery and the people behind the music have changed as well? Whatever was not supposed to have a sequel, there was never supposed to be another album that sounded just like it. The fact that it’s unique is partly why it is so alluring.
Happy 10th birthday, Whatever. You’re all old and grown up now. As I stare at your dusty album jacket, I wish I still had a CD player somewhere in my room to pop you into. Perhaps it’s nostalgia, or some sort of sentimental connection between us, but for me, you will go down as one of the best debut albums of all time. There will always be space for you in my phone’s music library (I’m not wiping away tears right now, I swear).