Happy b-day! Looking back on Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’

As Alex Turner and co’s debut turns ten this weekend, we revisit a game-changing record.

Every generation possesses a defining album that fires up a blazing passion somewhere in the subconscious. A record that encapsulates what it is to be young at a particular moment in time. As those who were born in the early 90s entered the first throes of adolescence, there was a sense that we’d missed out on our moment. We were growing up in a time where The Libertines and The Strokes had already become household names. The only other thing that people were banging on about was how Britpop was dead, and that there would never be another band as big as Oasis. Then, something incredible happened.

In Sheffield, somewhere around the High Green area, a group of teenage boys asked for guitars for Christmas, and despite barely being able to play anything between them, they formed a band. They called themselves Arctic Monkeys, and on 23rd January 2006, they released one of the most exciting and ground-breaking debut albums of the decade.

When ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ – a title nicked from the 1960s cult film Saturday Night/Sunday Morning – was first released, it stood out above the rest, repeatedly raising a massive middle finger to the world. A band of the Myspace generation, Arctic Monkeys quickly became part of the fabric of indie folklore. As they gave out free CDs at their early gigs, fans immediately took to internet on forums like mardy-bum.com to share the songs. They became an online phenomenon, despite never even uploading a track online themselves.

Arctic Monkeys became an online phenomenon, despite never even uploading a track online themselves.

This meant that months before the album came out, Arctic Monkeys’ gigs were sold out, and every person already knew all the words to every song. By the time their first single came out, Arctic Monkeys had become the hottest band around. They reacted with indifference, with Turner famously smirking “don’t believe the hype” at the beginning of the video for ‘I Bet You Look Good On Dancefloor’. It’s a track which seamlessly entwines crashing indie guitar rock at its most powerful with a Montague and Capulet flavoured reference to Shakespeare’s greatest tragic love story.

While other bands were busy pretending to be Julian Casablancas, singing in a faux-American accent, pulling themselves into impossibly tight jeans and artfully arranging their hair, a young Alex Turner was taking it all in from a-far. His observations of other bands on the gig circuit cumulated in ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’, a track with a simple, but highly effective driving riff that provides the perfect basis for Turner’s dry wit and uncanny ability to perfectly express the characters that surround him.

‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ stood out above the rest, repeatedly raising a massive middle finger to the world.

It was this poetic social commentary that managed to turn the mundane into the beautiful, and went on to inspire a whole new generation. Whether painting a disappointing night on the town in ‘Rits To The Rubble’ or the girlfriend in a piss on ‘Mardy Bum’, Turner wrote about immediately recognisable events. When it was backed by the power of Matt Helders’ impressive drumming ability, the cool groove of original bassist Andy Nicholson’s riffs and the stand-offish presence of Jamie Cook, the concoction was undeniable.

‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ summed up what it meant to be young, lost and British in the early 21st century in an honest, but often hilarious way. At the end of it all, it is Turner’s concluding remark that sticks longest. In ‘A Certain Romance’ he sighs as he looks on at his friends and says “they might overstep the line, but you just cannot get angry in the same way”. As the song launches into its final blast of surging energy, Turner concludes that we might all be awkward teenagers who can’t talk to girls in night clubs and our mates might get into rows at cash machines when we’re trying to get in a cab - but, we’re in this together. Someday we’ll look back and realise it’s not all that bad, and we’ll smile.

Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ celebrates its 10th Birthday on 23rd Jan.


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