Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Arctic Monkeys escape the pitfalls of buzz

Post-hype sleeper 

Three for three with critically acclaimed #1 albums in their native UK. Top spots in countries around the world with each release. Early hype for their forthcoming Suck It and See (Domino). That's a pretty good track record. Nonetheless, you might be hard pressed to find anyone who seems overly invested in Arctic Monkeys these days. Likes them, sure. Still bugs out when "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" comes on at the club? Definitely. But that's about it. And it's not just on these shores. I call a London hipster friend to take the pulse of the once and future kings of Brit Rock. "They're just another rock band now," he says. "There's nothing exciting about them. They may as well be Oasis."

Oof. But wait, since when is being like one of the greatest rock bands of all time a bad thing? Particularly when the Arctics' initial claim to fame was an honor held at one time by Oasis, for the fastest-selling debut record in UK history: 363,735 copies in the first week. In the year 2006. The internet, you'll recall, existed then. NME promptly called that record the fifth-best British record of all time — but NME calls everything the fifth-best record of all time.

Maybe we should have been paying more attention. Humbug, from 2009, found the still-young lads exploring their darker, "mature" side. Suck It and See, aside from having an awful title (it translates from the Brit as "Give it a try"), doesn't engender much enthusiasm at the top. "Thunderstorms" finds the band in a slow, churning mode, far removed from the thrilling hairpin guitar turns and even quicker quipping by preternaturally wizened frontman Alex Turner on their most engaging work. On "Brick by Brick," drummer Matt Helders takes the vocal reins for a piled-up blast of mod swagger. "Shalala" fastens a careering guitar lead to a hook that could be a festival-sized sing-along.

But though there's a thoughtfulness here that you might expect from a band who've gone through the indignities of worldwide fame and giant expectations, there's not much to spaz out to — and isn't that what we want from our scruffy Brit rockers?

"Yeah, on the whole I suppose it's a bit more mellow, if you like," says the 25-year-old Helders. "I think the thing was, we probably realized it doesn't have to be a fast thing to be heavy. You can get a lot of weight into a song in different ways than going about it frantically."

That mellowed approach may have come from the record's being written by Turner messing around alone with acoustic guitar. "We did it in a more traditional way, writing lyrics and melodies and guitar chords and all that," Helders continues. "We used to just chuck a few ideas together and build a song out of that."

Not stopping to think about things is what allowed them to move on from the pressure of overwhelming early success. "I think that's the reason we did the second album so quick after the first. If we hadn't, we'd still be worried about it now trying to follow it. We had to do it while the momentum was there before we started thinking about it too much."

Now they've found themselves in the sweet spot of a band's career: big enough to garner love around the world, but not so much so that they can't maintain a sense of normality. "It's the ideal situation," Helders says. "It's something we were quite cautious of from day one, trying to stay away from every magazine and TV show. We didn't necessarily want to be famous, but you can't control that and balance that with wanting people to hear your music."

ARCTIC MONKEYSTHE VACCINES | House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston | May 19 @ 7 pm | all ages | $27.50-$37.50 | 888.693.2583

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