The critical hype surrounding the release of the Arctic Monkeys’ debut album was just a little overblown - the word hyperbole doesn’t even come close to doing it justice, perhaps the words ‘megabole’ or ‘ultrabole’ might be more fitting.
NME, before it became Heat magazine for indie kids, rated ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ as the fifth best British album ever made - on the week that the album was released. This stunk of the ‘controversy creates cash’ ethos that seems to purvey much of the magazine industry today. Though such lists are always subjective, and always seem to contain the same albums time and again, this struck me as quite a cynical move by NME. Yes, the album was relevant, and captured a perfect snapshot of British life at that time, but no time had been allowed for the album to settle in our collective minds. In a list about the legacy of great music, the inclusion of a new release, no matter how good, just seems incredibly disingenuous. I don’t think I read NME after that.
I first heard the Arctic Monkeys on MySpace. I’m not cool enough to have ‘discovered’ them on there like everyone else claimed at the time, I read about them on a local music website and followed a link. I can remember the first tracks I heard by them: ‘Scummy’, ‘Fake tales of San Francisco’ ‘Mardy bum’ and ‘I bet you look good on the dance-floor’ (this was back when MySpace only allowed you to upload four tracks at a time). I had some software on my PC that allowed me to rip the MP3s from MySpace, and transfer them to my MP3 player. ‘Scummy’ (which was renamed for the album release to ‘When the sun goes down’), was probably my favourite of these tracks. Although I loved the urgency of ‘I bet you look good on the dance floor’, there was something about th slow intro to ‘Scummy’ and the way it built into the main riff that was nothing short of genius.
I really wanted to hate this album when it came out, due to that fact that every music journalist in the land was jizzing in their pants about it, but I couldn’t. The album was excellent, and whenever I was out in Leeds and ‘I bet you look good on the dance-floor’ came on and everyone got up to dance, you knew that this was something special: the first track grabbed you and shook you out of your chair; the riffs were instantly memorable; the lyrics were packed with social commentary and poetic flair; and, I hate to be so clichéd, the album took you on a journey.
For me, this album seemed to have that special indefinable something that The Stone Roses’ and Oasis’ debuts seemed to capture. I think that the mark of a band who have struck a chord with a nation is the crowd reaction at a festival. There are very few bands I’ve seen live where more or less everyone in the audience not only sings along with all the lyrics to the songs, but also sings the guitar riffs. This is exactly what it was like seeing them at Leeds Festival in 2006.
Through all the hype and bullshit surrounding this album’s release, it is undeniably a classic. If the NME ran an article today about the greatest British albums and put this at number five, I would have no problem with it (mainly because I don’t read or care about NME anymore, but I think you get my point), because the album’s importance is now clear.
So the charity shops have to suffer again, as I have selfishly decided to keep hold of this one.
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