Smart Alex: Arctic Monkeys pissed the right people off


It seemed like Ireland was the only country that Arctic Monkeys didn’t include on their summer festival schedule, and there was plenty of moaning when they didn’t get added to the Picnic.

But after a few months of playing on Main Stages to tens of thousands, where the ratio of proper fans to hangers-on isn’t always in your favour, most bands enjoy getting back indoors and keeping it more intimate – even if that intimacy is Ireland’s biggest blockbuster arena.

If rock conventions stuck, Arctic Monkeys were never supposed to get this far. The band emerged as jumped-up teenagers from Sheffield with their single I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor – one of the first pre-YouTube crossover viral singles that jumped from MySpace to top of the singles charts and turned them into predictable ‘saviours of rock’ in the middle of the landfill indie decade.

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But it soon turned out the youngsters weren’t some flash in the pan bunch of oiks. Their 2006 debut album Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not was an immediate No1, and is still the fastest selling debut in the UK and has sold millions worldwide, even as they emerged just as people stopped buying CDs.

Frontman Alex Turner was held up as the latest in a long line of Northern English lyricists with a mastery of observation and wit, with a few hysterical comparisons to Mark E Smith and Morrissey. Still, it wasn’t extreme hyperbole when the NME declared them “our generation’s most important band”, for their grassroots internet savvy and independent nature.

While insanely catchy, the band’s actual music was borrowed heavily from garage rock and punk, but all other chart guitar bands of the era were nicking from the same well, just not pulling it off with as much swagger. After releasing their follow-up Favourite Worst Nightmare, the band headlined Glastonbury in 2007 – surely the quickest jump from debut single to topping the Pyramid stage in the history of the festival.

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On their following albums, Humbug, Suck It and See and AM, the band eased away from their punky garage roots, for more widescreen productions and experimentation – after Turner indulged his Scott Walker and Jarvis side on his Last Shadow Puppets project.

Josh Homme joined for production on Humbug, adding a Queens of the Stone Age desert rat stomp to some tracks, and he appeared in the following two albums to unleash his trademark dirty falsetto.

The band’s biggest departure from type came with this year’s Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, which divided fans and critics down the middle. They’d been out of the spotlight for four years, so extra scrutiny was expected, but the piano-led lounge lizard detours, prog, soul and Diamond Dogs Bowie-isms threw people, and Turner’s sci-fi concepts are a big left turn from his usual wry, well-grounded observations.

But this new semi-cosmic breakthrough is more suited to the big stages. Presenting a concept album about a luxury hotel on the moon deserves offers a level of escapism that was maybe lacking in previous Arctic Monkeys gigs – and if you’re a fan who’s lucky enough to have a ticket, you’ll still get those hyper punked-up passages from back when the band – and the world – was a lot more innocent.

  • Arctic Monkeys play Dublin’s 3Arena tonight (Monday) and tomorrow, both sold out
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