There’s a great relatability in a working class person singing songs about their hometown. Especially one with a way with words who can create a captivating story in a three minute song. Think early Oasis or the fantastic “Word Gets Round” by the Stereophonics. But it’s a relatability that often means their music diminishes or at least suffers as they grow and move away from that initial inspiration. It’s hard to sing about being on the dole and bumming round a city when you’re making money off a huge hit album having left that life in the rear view mirror. It’s hard to keep that rawness and honesty.
So as you move on do you leave that honesty behind and cater to those fans who loved the earlier stuff? Or do you move on and potentially alienate those early listeners but stay true to who you are now? It’s also hard for that later work not to overshadow the earlier stuff as well. Think how early U2 is often forgotten amongst jokes about Bono and daft things like pushing an album to everyone’s iTunes. It’s similar to a film franchise, how Star Wars for some fans is diminished with every film released that doesn’t live up to the original.
So the band in question, Arctic Monkeys, I loved their debut album “Whatever people say I am, That’s what I’m not”. I was just leaving university and many of the tales of drunken nights I’d been living. They had a brash, unapologetic style of a young upstart band as they weaved fantastic tales of life and love in Sheffield.
The track “When the sun goes down” was a highlight of the album for me. Alex Turner’s low key vocals starting the track and setting the scene of a song about prostitution in Sheffield with a reference to The Police’s “Roxanne” dropped in (not one of those drunken nights I’d been living in this case!). The anticipation before the track kicks in is palpable, before the drums arrive with the driving guitar and bass to accompany all building to the sing along chorus.
“They said it changes when the sun goes down”
Memories swirl of people bouncing round at gigs, at clubs, on dance floors as the track powers along artfully painting incredibly vivid pictures just with the lyrics.
It feels like this whole album captures perfectly a moment in the band’s life, something that inevitably fades as the artist moves from the subject. But however you feel about later Arctic Monkeys – some stuff hits for me, some doesn’t – it is like many things worth revisiting the earlier stuff. It’s great to find that it stands up just as well as when you first heard it, it does you good to remember why you enjoyed it in the first place, even if it was a time and a place that is no longer there.