"Mardy Bum" / Arctic Monkeys
Usually when a guy in a song complains about his girlfriend I see it from her side -- of course he's been a jerk. But in this track by the Arctic Monkeys -- 2006's hot new band out of England, with an astonishingly successful first album -- I do sympathize with him for a change. After all, some women are nagging harpies, we all know that. Forget the war of the sexes: This song reminds me of every relationship where I've had to do all the heavy lifting, and what it feels like in the middle of the hard slog. Eric Burdon (see yesterday's rant) complained how misunderstood he was, but this guy really is.
I give this couple six months, max.
The guys in this band are all incredibly young, 20 or 21 or so, and they make it work for them; Alex Turner's lead vocals sound raw and unpolished, and the lyrics have a certain inarticulate quality that's totally believable. All the more reason for me to buy his version of events.
Leading off with a dogged-yet-hopeful clanging guitar riff, the singer draws a deep breath and faces his wrathful girlfriend: "Well now then Mardy Bum / I've seen your frown and it's like looking down the barrel of a gun /And it goes off and out come all these words." He dreads what's going to happen next, but he knows the scenario by now, "when you're so all argumentative" and "pulling that silent disappointment face." He may be young but he's shrewd enough not to fire back; with native canniness, he lets her rant on. For a while, at least.
The mood changes for the chorus -- suddenly there's melody, and syncopation, and much lighter, almost folky guitarwork -- and now he paints the other side of her, the side that still makes hanging around worth it -- "Remember cuddles in the kitchen / Yeah, to get things off the ground / And it was up, up and away." It's a wistful little snapshot, and his voice goes playful and husky, recalling those good times; that thick Sheffield accent comes out at the right moment, making him sound extra-sincere. Calling her a "mardy bum" (northern slang for a feisty, sulky girl) may be a put-down, but the dialect somehow makes it endearing, too.
As the guitar gets harsher in the bridge, he rolls out the excuses: "And yeah I'm sorry I was late but I missed the train / And then the traffic was a state," but she's clearly not buying it; you can feel his exasperation as he defends himself: "Oh when you say I don't care but of course I do, yeah I clearly do!" I don't necessarily want to take this guy on, myself, but I sure want to give her a good shake -- doesn't she know what a good thing she's got?
I wonder if the Arctic Monkeys have staying power; they can only sell the raw provincial youth image for so long. But if this song is any indication of their ability to nail down how real people really feel, then they just may have what it takes. And if not...well, we'll always have "Mardy Bum," and I'll think twice the next time I feel myself getting my silent disappointment face on.