The Sheffield four-piece's hugely influential debut reappraised.
Mike Diver 2009-08-26
Over three years on from the bomb-in-your-pocket blast of Arctic Monkeys’ introduction to the mainstream – two consecutive number one singles, and a chart-conquering debut album, represents quite the eruption from the blocks – it’s only by considering the pair of long-players that have followed it that one can begin to find relative fault with the Sheffield band’s first foray into audience affections.
With hindsight, 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not lacks both the acerbic edge of its fairly immediate successor Favourite Worst Nightmare – released just 15 months later – and the sense of completeness conveyed by their most recent, Josh Homme-assisted affair, Humbug. But the same – that the debut doesn’t match its follow-up releases – could be said of many a domestic indie success: Radiohead’s Pablo Honey is an embarrassment placed beside the superlative structures of The Bends, and Pulp didn’t hit their stride until fourth effort, His ‘n’ Hers. Granted, Oasis have perhaps never bettered Definitely Maybe, but they’re the exception to what’s otherwise a fairly established rule.
Exuding the ramshackle character of their preceding (freely distributed) demo material, much of Whatever People Say… flows at a rambunctious pace, its players’ shortcomings at the time masked by an infectious energy – listening back, it’s the spirit of When the Sun Goes Down and I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor that nailed them to our hearts, not any particular compositional flair (Alex Turner’s John Cooper Clark-indebted lyricism aside). With their innocent faces but wicked tongues, the Arctics were always a commercial proposition in waiting; Domino’s success in signing them sped the process up, but it’s hard to imagine a world without these songs finding a sizeable audience, label assistance or not.
The album’s clearest hooks are broad enough to cover several sub-genre bases, while the spiky riffs appeal instantly to punk-minded indie kids after something with true bite – especially after the likes of Keane and (modern era) Snow Patrol took the torch passed by Radiohead et al and proceeded to dampen it down to a smouldering shadow of its former self. Today’s definition of what passes for an indie band has everything to do with this album: it redefined one’s musical lexicon, pinching from the past but resolutely contemporary with its tales, however faked, of young-adult-eye-level social minutiae.
And it’s for its legacy, rather than actual content, that Whatever People Say… warrants categorising as a classic of its era. Its roots might not stretch deep, but branches continue to sprout forth from its frame