Released only a year after their debut, Favourite Worst Nightmare had a lot to live up to. With Arctic Monkeys now a household name, it may be easy to underestimate the impact of their first album. The band burst onto the indie-rock scene with their electrifying debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Not, dazzling critics and listeners alike. It became the fastest-selling debut album in British music history, and won a series of accolades including two BRIT awards and the 2007 Mercury prize. But what Arctic Monkeys were able to achieve with their second album was a much greater emotional depth than their debut, while still managing to maintain the same energetic and vibrant sound.
‘Brianstorm’ sets the fast-paced tempo of the overall album, with electrifying and exciting guitar and drums that get the heart racing. The first five songs all bear the hallmarks of early Monkeys music: tongue-in-cheek lyrics, irresistible guitar hooks, and an innate excitement to the songs that makes them so replayable. The quick tongue-twisting lyrics of ‘Balaclava’ perfectly capture the excitement of their antics – it is easy to imagine them running in the alleyways of the houses shown on the album cover. This is what gives the album such vibrancy: its vivid lyrics and catchy guitar-dominated melodies.
[‘Fluorescent Adolescent’] epitomises the growth of Arctic Monkeys’ songwriting from their first album
‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ gives the listener a break from the intensity of the first four tracks, with a much bouncier and more laidback guitar riff. Its appeal is in its catchiness and fun lyrics, although it has been helped also by the nostalgia connected to the song. Immortalised through 00s teen drama soundtracks and British indie sleaze playlists, it evokes a strong sense of nostalgia, and its not-so-serious sound is a reminder of carefree bygone days. While certainly an overplayed Monkeys song, it still manages to retain a sense of vitality in comparison to the similarly overplayed ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, which is undoubtedly commendable.
The second half of Favourite Worst Nightmare is where Arctic Monkeys show a sense of maturity, a departure from their work thus far. ‘The Only Ones Who Know’ is not a very memorable track but is a far more melancholy song than any the Monkeys had made so far. ‘Do Me a Favour’ exhibits the more poetic lyricism that Alex Turner is known for in his later work. Human emotions come to the fore, with lyrics such as “You could see that we’d cried/And I watched, and I waited ‘til she was inside/Forcing a smile and waving goodbye.” The build-up to the instrumental and final chorus is incredibly satisfying, and is the perfect payoff for the song to let loose in true Monkeys fashion. This song epitomises the growth of Arctic Monkeys’ songwriting from their first album.
It’s a turning point in Turner’s songwriting, showing the complexity and feeling in the lyrics he was capable of.
That is not to say that there is a sudden change in the feel of the album, as the melancholy yearning of songs such as ‘Do me a Favour’ are intertwined with the more heavy and loud tracks such as ‘This House is a Circus’. These tracks enhance each other to give a greater emotional spectrum to the album, breaking away from their debut which, while still an amazing album, is more one-note in its tone.
The album ends with ‘505’, distinct for its lyrics such as “But I crumble completely when you cry” and “I’d probably still adore you with your hands around my neck”, both of which sound like they could be lyrics by The Smiths. The emotional depth of this song is a completely different finish to the album than its beginning. One of the best Arctic Monkeys songs, it doesn’t feel as if it represents this album but is the direction in which they would go with their subsequent albums. It’s a turning point in Turner’s songwriting, showing the complexity and feeling in the lyrics he was capable of. That is not to say it is inherently better than their earlier style – both stand out on the album and complement each other.
The band are still firmly rooted in Sheffield, up to similar antics from the first album. But this album also represents a transition for the band, from the cheeky and immensely popular ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ to the much more emotional and sombre ‘505’. From excitement to yearning, the album showcased Arctic Monkeys’ ability to create poignant songs. The mix of the two gives the album a stronger sense of depth than their debut, and can certainly hold its own in comparison. It’s their coming-of-age album, embellished with greater maturity and mastery of lyrics, while still maintaining their mischievous roots.
Recommended listening: ‘Do Me a Favour’