In a few hours, the Arctic Monkeys are going to release their sixth full-length album, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino. The band has decided to forego previewing the album through pre-release singles, instead of playing a series of concerts prior to the album’s release. All of the reports circulating about the new record seem to suggest that it’s going to be a massive shift away from the guitar-heavy rock and roll that endeared them to fans across the world.
Over the past couple days, I decided to sit down and re-visit the Arctic Monkeys’ discography just for fun, as a way to get myself amped up for Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’s release tomorrow. In doing so I walked away with a deeper appreciation for all of their albums (yes even 2009’s Josh Homme produced Humbug), but one album seemed to stand head and shoulders above everything else that the Monkeys’ have released and it’s their 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.
2013’s AM opened the Arctic Monkeys up to widespread critical and commercial acclaim stateside, while firmly etching their name in the pantheon of current great rock bands. With hits like “Do I Wanna Know?”, “R U Mine?”, “Why’d You Only Call Me When Your High?”, and “Arabella” all coming from the album it’s not hard to see why. AM is fantastic from the now iconic opening drum beats on “Do I Wanna Know?” all the way through to the vastly underrated “I Wanna Be Yours” which serves as a perfect album closer. Along the way, the album’s B-sides are just as good as the singles.
Despite all of the attention that AM deservedly gets, it’s their 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not that will always stand atop any ranking of the best Arctic Monkeys’ albums.
As an American, it wasn’t until AM in 2013 that I really started paying attention to the Arctic Monkeys. While the band has been gigantic across the pond from the start, stateside they never were considered quite the essential listening that their American contemporaries like The Strokes and LCD Soundsystem were. But similar to other now iconic albums like Is This It and Sound of Silver, ever since I got my hands on their debut album it has rarely slipped out of my regular album rotation.
Perhaps it’s because Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is possibly the only album that I can think of off the top of my head that finds a way to bridge my love of the 70s’ punk rock by bands such as the Sex Pistols and The Clash with my passion for the indie rock sound that defined that early 2000s.
In fact, Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not, rocks with an intensity and urgency that is seldom seen in rock music and it’s apparent from the opening chords.
Tracks like the album opener “A View from the Afternoon” and lead-off single “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” kick off the record with a vicious punk attitude that sets the stage for the rest of the record. “Still Take You Home” and “You Probably Couldn’t See For the Lights, But You Were Staring at Me” keep the seedy punk energy alive too.
“Fake Tales of San Francisco”, “Mardy Bum”, and “When the Sun Go Down” are also stand out tracks that rival most of the songs the band has released since then. They all have a certain amount of catchiness and resolve to them allows them to escape the notion they are just more standard guitar-driven rock songs.
“When the Sun Goes Down” in particular may be my favorite song the Arctic Monkeys’ have ever recorded. Nestled between the excellent “Perhaps Vampires is a Bit Strong But…” and the fun “From the Ritz to the Rumble”, “When the Sun Goes Down” pairs the simple and rocking chorus of “They say he changes when the sun goes down!” perfectly with an almost subdued opening and ending to the song. It’s just good, old fashioned, and fun rock and roll.
I was lucky enough to see the Arctic Monkeys live back in 2014 when they played the Firefly Stage right before Foo Fighters at Firefly Music Festival. They were pretty good, despite being tasked with an impossible job opening for Foo Fighters, who at the time were emerging from hiatus and played one of the best festival sets I have ever seen. But throughout the entire set, I couldn’t help but notice that this band had come a long way from singing songs like “A View in the Afternoon” or “Perhaps Vampires is Bit Strong But…”. They even looked different, dressed in white button downs with black dress pants and slicked back hair. Their 19 song set only features 2 songs from their debut album and a whopping 10 came from AM.
Arctic Monkeys are a band that are consistently evolving. Each album the Monkeys’ have made has been a reinvention of their career. There is a lot you can say about them, but one thing you can’t say is that they are complacent or stagnate. That’s a good thing, but there’s also a certain amount of despondency knowing that the Arctic Monkeys will probably never make another record like this again. 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare is the closest we are likely to get and that was followed up by 2009’s Humbug which was a Josh Homme produced desert rock record.
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not turns 12 years old this year. In the 12 years since their debut album, the Arctic Monkeys have gone from a raw, punk, and young to polished, mature, and grown up. But on the eve of their latest release, their debut record still stands as the crowning achievement for one of rock music’s’ best and most versatile band