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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Whatever people said they were, that's what they're not: Arctic Monkeys in retrospect

On Jan. 23, popular British rock band Arctic Monkeys celebrated 17 years of their debut LP, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.” This album is one of the most influential rock albums of the 21st century and stands as an early testimony of the power of the Internet in the music industry. With the release of their seventh studio album, “The Car,” and a long list of tour dates spanning multiple countries on almost every continent, it’s important to take a step back and look at how the famed quartet got their start. 

How did they get so popular, and how have they evolved into what they are today?

Arctic Monkeys was formed in 2002 by founding members Alex Turner (lead vocals, guitar), Matt Helders (drums) and Andy Nicholson (bass) in Sheffield, England. They soon brought on Jamie Cook as a second guitarist and began making music, playing their first gig at a Sheffield pub called The Grapes in 2003. 

The band soon garnered a large and loyal following from their live shows and from a fan-made MySpace page promoting the band’s 18-track demo. Their first EP “Five Minutes with Arctic Monkeys” was released in 2005 — featuring tracks such as “Fake Tales of San Francisco” and “From the Ritz to the Rubble” — and they soon signed with Domino. 

The release of “WPSIA” in 2006 was monumental beyond comparison. This LP remains the fastest-selling debut album in UK history, surpassing the previous holder by nearly 60,000 copies. Sales from the first day were more than those of the top-20 combined, and the numbers from its first week in the U.K. were more than the first year in the U.S. 

Arctic Monkeys became famous nearly overnight throughout the U.K. In response to their sudden popularity, Nicholson became overwhelmed and left the band to work on his own musical projects. The band replaced him with Nick O’Malley, and the lineup has been the same ever since. 

Over the next decade, the band regularly released music — whether it be LPs, EPs or B-sides (of which they have over 40) — and continued to grow in popularity. They have received 104 award nominations and garnered 42 wins, even having the opportunity to perform at the 2012 London Olympic opening ceremony along with Paul McCartney (The Beatles) and Alex Trimble (Two Door Cinema Club).

After a hiatus from their world-renowned album “AM,” the Monkeys began to look at their music with a fresh set of eyes. While their previous music had been characterized by energetic instrumentals and vocals, their new project, “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino,” changed that. Taking inspiration from a variety of media including Stanley Kubrick films and The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” they created a concept album about a lunar hotel and casino from the perspective of different patrons and employees around the base. Turner croons about religion, politics, consumerism and culture with a jazzy, space-aged edge that threw off many fans upon first listen. 

Many longtime fans have had a hard time coping with their new sound and further evolution with “The Car,” but have found more authenticity and maturity from the music. While the band has always been lyrically masterful, their recent albums have shown a return to their incisive commentary on society and modern culture as a whole while maintaining their innovative instrumentation. 

As a lover of music, music history and Arctic Monkeys, I was thrilled to be able to write this. Out of the four years I’ve had Spotify, they have been my top artist for three. “WPSIA” is an iconic and incredibly well-made album that remains one of my favorite works of theirs — but “Humbug” will always be in the top spot. Their diverse and extensive discography serves to fit any mood and situation, and they continue to impress as time passes.

Despite the connotations from their debut album title, whatever people have been saying about Arctic Monkeys regarding their pure talent and star-power is exactly what they are and will remain for years to come.

Contact Anna Falk at afalk@nd.edu