I’m not going to give you ten reasons.
I’m not even going to give you ONE reason.
The headline was just to grab your attention, I’m sorry. According to a certain blogging workshop I attended lately (ahem), apparently that’s the thing to do. You can go nurse your betrayed feelings later. Right now, FOCUS, cz I’m going to be tellin’ you about the band that seized my musical virginity and played merry hell with it.
Right at the outset I will say that I haven’t listened to the Frosty Simian’s entire discography yet; I only became a fan in the true, absolutely-obsessive-knows-everything-from-their-middle-names-to-their-parents’-residential-address sort of sense only about two months back. Now, normally this would have meant that I would have found out pretty much all of those things, and more besides, given the sheer level at which I fangirl, but those two months also happened to coincide with the start of the college year, and since I do have hopes of making my currently 10-watt future into a 20-watt one, I decided to hold off a bit.
Then there’s the peculiar problem where I can’t bring myself to listen to what is arguably the most important, certainly the most often canonized album they’ve produced: Humbug, their third studio album. Maybe it’s because everyone always talks about it; I have a peculiar affinity to automatically dislike anything that everyone always talks about. I haven’t heard all of the songs from their ace frontman/ principal lyricist/ lead guitarist/ resident sex pot Alex Turner’s side project with his almost-boyfriend Miles Kane, titled The Last Shadow Puppets; I haven’t even heard all the songs from the soundtrack Alex produced for Richard Ayoade’s coming-of-age film Submarine. And in spite of all this, I still sit here today writing about how much I love this band and all the beautiful things they’ve done.
(LOOK HOW CUTE THEY WERE CIRCA 2006 D’AWH)
That the Arctic Monkeys first burst onto the British scene with Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not in 2006 is probably common knowledge amongst their fans.
This, along with their second studio album Favourite Worst Nightmare, includes some of my outstanding favourite Monkeys songs, not the least because it’s hilarious how these 18-year-old baby-faced balls of adorableness could have produced such starkly harsh, noisy, brutally honest music.
Certainly, lyrically speaking, these two are the most diverse of their albums: Alex deals with issues as far apart as prostitution in nighttime Sheffield in When the Sun Goes Down, a moody girlfriend throwing a temper tantrum in Mardy Bum, the commercialisation rampant in the music industry in A Certain Romance and the “dreams of naughtiness” that are the pinnacle of adolescent experience in their most famous and well-loved anthem, I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor.
The stormy lyrics, crashing cymbals and ear-filling intensity of the guitar work create an atmosphere that is at once extremely rebellious, irreverent, sensitive and familiar, trapped in a vortex of emotions that only the youth know how to express. That, I think, is what set those first two albums apart; the Monkeys brought the voice of working-class youth to the forefront of the music scene in a way that no other band had in recent years. That’s certainly why I like them so much. There is a ring of authenticity in those songs that nothing can recreate or replace.
And then there’s my other favourite, the diametrically opposite AM.
Here’s the thing about AM: if you listen to it, you can’t not think about sex.
You can’t not dream about dreamy nights in sleazy hotels and regretted phone calls made one drink too late; you can’t not feel the distinctly unfamiliar, yet all too well known feeling of longing that thumps inexplicably through all the songs, as an undercurrent, undetected but felt right in the heart.
AM is an album for adults.
I have a feeling a lot of the Monkey’s oldest (and quite a few new) fans are going to hamstring me and hang me upside-down for saying this, but sue me; with this album, the Monkeys came of age, creating, as Rolling Stone Magazine put it, a “beast of an album” that makes you feel nostalgic for things you haven’t even experienced yet. It’s the sheer poetic power of the words, the hypnotic quality of the music.
I think the only songs in the Monkeys’ cannon that came close to capturing this album’s beat, both in words and tune, is the ridiculously beautiful, ridiculously haunting 505. That the band which created the jagged tones of “FWN” and “Whatever” can create this same smooth, slowly unfurling melody is testament not only to the band’s native talent but their growth. The idiots I love so much managed to fuse top-40 beats with lyrics worthy of prize-winning poetry. They created love narratives that do not conform to the stereotypes of popular love songs. They took the best of their earlier album, Suck it And See, and shook it up to create something entirely new. You tell me; what’s not to love?
I think the real problem with older fans not being able to accept AM is the fact that with this album, the Monkeys consciously put on a mask.
They each created a quasi-musical persona; at least, Alex certainly did. This is so vastly different from everything they did at the beginning, those 4 Sheffield lads all those years ago, but as Matt the drummer put in a 2012 interview: “That was seven years ago. They don’t expect us to still keep doing that, do they?”
And through all of this, one thing remained constant, the one thing that to me sets the Monkeys apart from most rock bands currently in existence: Alex Turner’s lyrics.
(he does, though. He he.)
See, I know I’ve been going on and on about how brilliant the lyrics are and how much they affect me and so on, but Alex isn’t just some other writer going on about some thing or the other in a relatable voice. Oh no no no: Alex Turner’s lyrics, speaking from a literature-lover’s point of view, are freaking fantastic.
The change in Turner’s writing style is quite as interesting to watch as the music of the Monkeys. Turner’s lyrics are moving stories, and by moving I mean both emotional and active, mobile. There is no sense of passivity in a Monkeys song, whether in the music or the words: Alex’s immense capability, as a lyricist, to engage you as he tells a story is frankly unparalleled in everything I’ve heard. Whether it is the voice of the gentle young lad who would sit and write about night-time Sheffield in the lingo of the British youth, or the confident man who sings of love-games, his words are complex, but never wasteful; poetic, but never obscurely so. And there, that perfect, delicate balance where the lyrics become the bridge between the listener and the music rather than being overwhelmed or overwhelming, is the reason I love Alex’s lyrics so much: they are a complement to the tunes they inhabit, and from a literary-person-thingy’s perspective, seriously, what on earth could possibly be more fascinating?!
Aaaand we’re running out of time here.
You know how people said they didn’t know what to write, when faced with the monumental challenge of verbalizing how much their favourite bands mean to them?
Me, I don’t get that. I have too much to write. How, every time I see them smile, they make me happy. How I think of random things they’ve said or done and laugh aloud to myself. How I hum their songs while moving about my day, and feel comforted. How I react to situations with one of their lyrics and the irony makes me grin. How, every time I sing their songs, the energy and the lyrics and the very vibrations of the music resonate with the innermost tunes of my soul, and I’m not ever sure I have a soul or what exactly a soul is supposed to be. How, every time I listen to them, I seem to find new meaning in what they’ve said and new ways to enjoy the music they’ve created.
The result is that I always have new things to say, because the way that I understand them is constantly evolving. But there’s not much more I can put down here; there’s a limit to your patience and my unexpected phase of productivity.
My love for the Monkeys isn’t limited to just their music. I mean, there’s Alex’s love for books by Camus and Nabokov (for starters) and Matt’s freaking brilliant photography skills and Jamie’s sense of humour and Nick’s general down-to-earth charm; how can I, as a dedicated fangirl, possibly ignore all of this?
And I know, I know it’s silly of me to relate so much to artists so much beyond their art. It’s definitely silly (and more than a little bit creepy) how much, just as people, they can make me happy. But in the end, it all comes back to that music: the music that brings me closer to them in that third space that exists beyond laws of physics and dimensions and reason, the music that articulates stories and emotions and entire worlds to me that I didn’t even know I knew. And there’s why, from here on till the end of time, I’m going to love the Frosty Simians with all the depth of feeling that my little overused heart can hold.
Here are a few songs that are my is-special favourites and that you should DEFINITELY listen to absolutely totally, arranged in a timeline (wow, I put some serious effort into this):
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
When The Sun Goes Down: A song that deals with prostitution in nightime Sheffield, the alternating acoustic-hard rock sound of the song is arresting and the lyrics indicate a level of sympathy, depth and honesty that I have no idea how a bunch of 19 year olds achieved.
Mardy Bum: A depiction of an adolescent relationship with a tempestuous young woman. Cried for approximately forever after listening to it.
Fake Tales of San Francisco: It’s either a scathing satire of self-important bands sold to popularity rather than music, or an exorcism of personal fears of being booed off the stage, I can never really tell (probably both, knowing Alex). Pretty awesome either way, kick-ass rhythm.
A Certain Romance: A protest against consumerism. Enough said.
I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor: THE BEAT.
Favourite Worst Nightmare
505: Take all the feelings you have ever had about a lover and ramp them up around 1000 times. It features Miles Kane on guitar and the dude is a magician with that instrument. The haunting, chiming tunes add a layer of wistfulness to a song that says, “I’m going back to , If it’s a 7 hour flight or a 45 minute drive…In my imagination you’re waiting lying on your side, with your hands between your thighs.”
Teddy Picker: Picks up from where “A Certain Romance” leaves off, ending with the sentence, “Who’d want to be a man of the people when there’s people like you?” THE SASS.
Brianstorm: The song expresses pretty much everything I and every other awkward person feels around smooth-talking socially-enabled people with a certain amount of smarm. The drums are MIND BLOWING, said to be one of the toughest-to-play tracks ever. Hats off to you, Mr Matthew J Helders the third. And the bass ties the song together so commandingly, it becomes a source of rhythm on its own. Nicholas O’ Malley, you are perfect.
Fluorescent Adolescent: Bona fide Monkeys anthem and possibly their most famous song. I don’t like it because it makes me sad and reminds me forcibly of Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson, which I also don’t like. But it is a brilliant song, not the least because Alex co-wrote it with his then-girlfriend Johanna Bennett as a word game.
Suck it And See
Shireen-certified “cool album”.
Suck it And See: The third stanza is gorgeous; there is no other way to describe the melding of guitar work and vocals and drums and keyboard; it is rich and complex and “Once upon a Shangri-La” might just be one of the coolest phrases I’ve ever come across. Also, special mention of Alex’s baritone. It was just developing in this album, changing from his earlier higher voice, and it is glorious.
R U Mine: This song is an eargasm. The bass is addictive and the drums are crashing and engaging and the guitar work is!!! It is so ridiculously fun to sing along to and it combines that with lyrics like “Time-travelling diamond cutter shaped heart-aches come to find you far in some velvet morning years too late.”
Do I Wanna Know? : It’s… it’s like chocolate. Like melting chocolate for your ears. The thumping rhythm, the slow, slightly surreal feel, the dark atmosphere it creates. It’s definitely as good an aphrodisiac as melting chocolate. Possibly better. And the lyrics make the feminist part of my heart sing.
Arabella: Poetry written by Alex Turner and set to music to turn my heart into molten puddles (“her lips are like the galaxy’s edge/ And her kiss the colour of a constellation falling into place“.) Sometimes it sounds dangerously close to Petrarachan poetry and I rebel against it, but at other times the music overwhelms every other consideration. There is this one bridge where the lyrics meet the music: “(Arabella) Wraps her lips round the Mexican coke/ Makes you wish that you were the bottle/ Takes a sip of your soul and it sounds like…” and it goes off into a guitar riff) and each is continued by the other and the guitar work makes me weep (Jamie!!), even though I understand nothing of guitar work, because THAT’S HOW GOOD IT IS.
Knee Socks: The song begins what we, the fancy literary people, call in medias res, and then traces the story backwards. Seriously. There’s people writing stuff like “I’m gonna tear your ass” in top-40s music, and this dude is putting literary expositions in his lyrical story telling.
I Wanna Be Yours: A poem by rock star poet John Cooper Clarke that Alex set to music because, clearly, why the hell not, and also because he completely and utterly fangirls over John Cooper Clarke. We all have our vices.
(Still working on Humbug, although I have heard Cornerstone and Crying Lightning. Hold yo’ horses.)
(here’s a handy guide to Alex’s hairstyles to finish things off with. Turns out their music is not the only thing that evolved.)
And that was the last ever post for Melodies.
I CAN’T BELIEVE I JUST SAID THAT. I’M BAWLING.
I also just realised I haven’t created a poster for myself. Here’s the poster for the thingy I’ve written this for instead:
I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS THE LAST EVER TIME I’M GOING TO POST THIS THING.
Thank you so much, Sananda, Rohini, Rohit, Madhumati, Shireen, Shirsho and Sourjyo for participating and pouring your hearts out in your posts. Thank you to every one of you who has read these posts, offering their comments and supporting the writers, and in general making this project the thumping success that it has been. And a huge thanks to every single person who has kept me going throughout these four weeks, giving feedback and words of support and encouragement and, most lovely of all, telling me that this series made them fall back in love with music. That is all that I really wanted to do.
(Also, quick mention here of the AM videos– yep, I’m still stuck on the topic. The album’s, I mean. They’re mind-blowing, in some cases literally. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post waiting to happen. Soon!)