Thursday, November 13, 2008

"The Bad Thing" / Arctic Monkeys

Don't be put off by idiot music critics who try to puff these guys up as the best band since the Beatles -- honestly, the Arctic Monkeys are good enough that they don't need that kind of overblown hype BS. I truly dug their first album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (what a great hype-deflating title), and since their Favorite Worst Nightmare came out last year, it's been growing on me even more. I love its feisty, aggressive energy, those unapologetically broad Sheffield accents, and the surprising range of sounds they pull off within that punk-inspired groove. Worthy heirs to the Jam's mantle, indeed.

This song blasts out of the gate with an urgent howl of desire -- "Dooooooo / the bad thing" -- followed by the impatient demand "Take off that wedding ring," clipped off in staccato syllables that march fiercely down the scale, with an extra scornful twist on the w of "wedding ring." On he goes, in a jittery rush of equivocating argument -- "But it won't make it that much easier /It might make it worse." Meandering around in murky moral territory is something these guys do very well indeed, and even if they aren't navigating it too successfully -- and really, who does? -- at least they have the grace to admit it makes them feel bad.

You know how people talk in a bar, or at a party, when they know they're about to give in to their worst impulses? That's how Alex Turner delivers the verses of this song, all in a hurried monotonic jerky mutter: "Oh the night's like a whirlwind, / Somebody's girlfriend's / Talkin' to me, but it's all right, she's sayin' that / 'He's not gonna slap me or try to attack me, /He's not the jealous type.'" He's not really buying it, but hormones are flowing and he's not sure he wants to get away, but he still could, but will he? The suspense is killing me.

"And all these capers make her too forward to ignore, / Well, she's talkin' but I'm not entirely sure" -- not sure of what? Not sure of anything, it seems, not sure of anything in this whole nasty addled scene. As he says later, "I'm struggling to think of an immediate response, / Like , 'I don't mind,' 'be a big mistake for you to wait,' and 'let me waste your time, / Really, love, it's fine, /Really love it's fine." But he doesn't actually say any of those things, does he?

The really telling line comes in the third verse: "And then the first time it occurred that there was something to destroy" -- really, this is astonishingly mature thinking from a guy in his 20s standing at a bar with deep cleavage and a flash of ripe thigh being dangled in front of him. You're listening to those whomping drums and the skittering guitar riffs, and the last thing you expect is clear thinking. But there it is. "I knew before the invitation that there was this ploy," he reminds himself, "Oh, but she carried on suggestin', a struggle to refuse, / She said, 'It's the red wine this time,' but that is no excuse." It's practically Victorian, really.

Baffled romantics, that's what the Arctic Monkeys are. Lost boys, wandering through the sleazy modern world with a jacked-up tempo and their amps turned up to 11. They've got a great sound PLUS a surprising bit of substance, and I'm betting they're not just a flash in the pan. As good as the Beatles? Well, let's not go overboard -- even the Beatles weren't as good as The Beatles when they started out. But it's nice to have something to look forward to.

The Bad Thing sample


Anonymous said...

Alex Turner is better in The Last Shadow Puppets, I saw them in NYC a few weeks ago, a great gig.

Holly A Hughes said...

I like what I've heard of theirs as well -- so maybe that'll be the band that sticks for Turner. I guess I kinda hoped that the Monkeys were a whole group and not just Alex Turner's back-up band.