Surprisingly good

Arctic Monkeys beat the hype
By JAMES PARKER  |  March 13, 2006

NOVELTY NEUROSIS: Arctic Monkeys appear to have swallowed the United Kingdom whole.Leonard Cohen once said that living in England was like living inside a cabbage, a simile I can improve only by adding: an electrified cabbage. The UK’s enfolded and vegetal smallness has in recent decades and for a number of reasons become supercharged. Brits are the most monitored people on Earth: there are four million CCTV cameras distributed around the country, and the average Londoner gets photographed 300 times a day. Information throbs and wavers over the land in a hallucinatory pall, like the aura of a distant airport. The British press is overheated, excitable, always drumming politicians out of office or mounting campaigns to burn down pedophiles’ houses.

Then there’s the music press, afflicted since “the heady days of punk rock” (see right) with a metabolic craving for newness, a sugar lust for the next hot thing, what the writer Joe Carducci calls “novelty neurosis.” It is often said (by me, at least) that Nirvana could never have happened in Britain; Cobain and company could never have festered to maturity in the backwoods, gathering power and identity, learning to play and write and so on, because they would have been sprayed all over the cover of NME after their second rehearsal.

All this is by way of introducing the idea that hype in Britain works differently, on hotter and tighter circuits. Compared to the US, with its sluggish entertainment monoliths and regional markets adrift in continental vastness, it’s Beatlemania every day over there. Which brings us to Arctic Monkeys (who come to the Paradise March 23). Let’s go straight to the press kit helpfully included with my copy of the new CD Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. “For the inhabitants of the British Isles,” it begins, in oddly Gibbon-esque style, “the second half of 2005 belonged to one band and one band only.” Now that’s more like it — “one band and one band only”! Hurrah! To continue: “A group of four friends, barely out of high school in their small industrial satellite town in the North of England, burst into the national consciousness in a way not seen since the heady days of punk rock.” Hurrah again!

Yes, despite the classic indie-runt lineage suggested by their name (cf., Close Lobsters, Soup Dragons), Arctic Monkeys appear to have swallowed the United Kingdom whole. Last year their debut single, “I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” went straight to #1. So did the follow-up, “When the Sun Goes Down.” This year Whatever People Say I Am . . . sold 363,735 copies in its week of release, that making it the UK’s fastest-selling debut album ever. And on top of this comes what we in the business refer to as “critical acclaim,” thunderingly good reviews, NME placing it #5 (four places above Revolver) in its Top Ten British Albums of All Time — thumbs-ups and high scores all round.

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Britflops: Five limey hypes that failed

1. Robbie Williams | Jaunty ex-boy-band song-and-dance man, huge in UK, vast worldwide sales, can’t get arrested in US. Horrible 1998 single “Millennium” went to #1 over there but peaked at #72 over here.

2. Embrace | The missing link between Oasis and Coldplay. Stadium-scale emo-swagger = no hits.

3. Northern Uproar | The paradigmatic post-Oasis dud. Lads in rainwear, shambling about, failed to make a dent. Dark Secret: first single “Rollercoaster” is not bad at all.

4. Menswear | Coked-up mods hurriedly signed in Blur-inspired frenzy. Preened, twanged, disappeared suddenly, as if through a trapdoor. The arc of their destruction was actually quite sobering.

5. TBA | As hacks and whores scour the length and breadth of Britain for the next Arctic Monkeys, an as-yet-unnamed group of future losers, in a rehearsal room somewhere, are arguing over the length of a guitar solo. Watch ’em go!

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