Friday, June 30, 2006

Everything People Say I Am,
That's What I Am: On The Arctic Monkeys, Be Your Own Pet, and The Hype Machine

All you people are vampires
All your stories are stale
Though you pretend to stand by us
Though you're certain we'll fail.
-- The Arctic Monkeys,
"Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong But..."

Hype is a funny thing. Or maybe I should say: The way people react to it is funny. Some fall for it, while others run away. But why does it have to be an either/or proposition? That's what I've never understood. Some phenomena lives up to it, some doesn't.

After hearing all the hub-bub about the Arctic Monkeys, I picked up their debut. Guess what? I love it, and I'd be missing out on one of my favorite releases of the year if I'd decided to hold the hype against the British quartet. Whether they helped create it or not is irrelevant. What's more important is whether they live up to it.

Even if they didn't, I wouldn't have known if I didn't take a chance. So, I can understand the impulse to flee, since few artists justify that kind of attention. I just don't like it when people start to badmouth a buzzed-about band before they've even given 'em a listen or tried to figure out where they're coming from.

In the months since the release of Everything People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not--one ace of a title--the backlash against the Monkeys has begun. Everyone seems to agree they rock the house live, but now some are saying the record isn't really that good.

Have they been influenced by the fact that it didn't make the same impact in the States as it did in the UK, i.e. that it's too British? That's what Sasha Frere-Jones suggests in the 6/5/06 New Yorker. He has a point. The CD has sold well, but didn't set sales records here the way it did in Great Britain, which is to say, they didn't become the next Radiohead or Coldplay. Well, the group doesn't seem to care, which just makes me love 'em more.

The first thing I noticed when I popped Everything People Say I Am into my player is that it isn't the world's most original record. The Clash, the Jam, and the Libertines all sprang to mind.

It's too soon to say whether the boys in the Sheffield band are gonna have the same kind of longevity as Joe Strummer or Paul Weller, but their debut is everything (that word again) the Mick Jones-produced Up the Bracket should've been. It's shorter, but there are no duff tracks--unlike the debut from Pete "Babyshambles" Doherty and lads--and the songs scan as well as they sound, i.e. Alex "Memo From" Turner really has a way with words. A very, very British way: Tom Courtenay as a punk, Mike Skinner as a rocker, Ray Winstone as a skinny lad.

Which brings me to Be Your Own Pet (BYOP). Check it: Folks are already throwing around the acronym as if this Nashville quartet were the next BOC. Anyway, after hearing the hype, I caught a few songs on the radio. And wasn't impressed. I thought they sounded like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. More to the point, I thought Jemima Pearl sounded like Karen O, although her band rocks harder.

I don't dislike the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, by the way, but nor am I a booster. That whole New New York School of Major Label Rock (NNYSMLR) just doesn't do it for me. If I wanna listen to records by Television or Blondie, that's what I'll do. I don't own any of their recordings; nor do I own any by the Strokes.

So when I put on Be Your Own Pet, I didn't expect to hear something 100% original. I didn't. As with the Arctic Monkeys, it isn't that Be Your Own Pet are doing what's never been done before, it's that they're doing it as if it hadn't.

It is, I suppose, a feel or a spirit as much as--if not more than--a sound. Then again, the group is so young it seems unlikely they've heard all the bands they evoke, everything from Betty Serveert on the gentler tracks to a more metallic X-Ray Spex on the others. Their debut is a short, sharp, energetic little creature.

As with Everything, there's no filler, no wasted space. Yet it isn't a completely straightforward proposition either. "Bunk Trunk Skunk," for instance, which features the ear-grabbing couplet, "I'm an independent motherfucker / And I'm here to take your money" couldn't be catchier, yet ends with a beautiful blast of feedback.

Then there's "Adventure." In a perfect world, the single would be as much of a hit as Bow Wow Wow-by-way-of-the Strangeloves' "I Want Candy." No, it doesn't stomp that hard, but the combination of power-pop hooks and martial drums scratches a similar itch. (One you didn't even know you had till you heard it.)

Two songs later, Pearl is swearing again, Joey Ramone-style: "There's too much shit going on in my brain / Hurry hurry hurry hurry, 'cause I'm going insane." (Yet the foursome never quite conjures up the Ramones.) If she had a darker or more hesitant voice, it might come across as a whine, but because she's so forthright, it's more like a statement or an explanation than a complaint. In other words, this gal ain't keeping it all inside.

I'm not sure what else to say. I could name a few bands who haven't lived up to this year's heaps of hype, but I'd rather not. I'm here to celebrate not to berate. In the end, I'm neither for nor against hype. After all, it brings artists to my attention with which I might not otherwise become acquainted. Then again, as mentioned already, few live up to it. Or they do for only a short while before the rot sets in, because 1) They believe it, or 2) They don't, i.e. they develop an inferiority complex.

The best thing to do, I suppose, is to ignore it. If you're the subject, that is. For the rest of us--the observers, the consumers--I think it's worth tuning into, while taking each artist/album on a case by case basis. For my money, the Arctic Monkeys and Be Your Own Pet live up to the hype. For now. Sophomore slumps may be just around the corner, but that day hasn't arrived yet.

Note: All images from the official Arctic Monkeys and Be Your Own Pet websites--including the Monkeys MySpace page, which sports the slogan, "Don't believe the hype..."

No comments: