The Arctic Monkeys
"Favourite Worst Nightmare" (Domino)
* * * 1/2
MONKEYS see, monkeys do a song about it.
That's the method that's made the Arctic Monkeys' small body of work so impressive -- a documentarian-like sense of observation that gives their stories the ring of truth. But the English band's second album (in stores Tuesday) shows that its focus on its field of vision rather than flights of fancy can also be a limitation.
On last year's star-making debut, "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not," the quartet found transcendence in the mundane details of a night of youthful courtship, carousing and confrontation in the streets and clubs of its hometown of Sheffield.
There's little of that sense of wonder and possibility in "Favourite Worst Nightmare." Instead of broadening their horizons, the album suggests that success has enclosed them in a world populated by desperate and predatory characters.
"We're forever unfulfilled and can't think why, like a search for murder clues in dead men's eyes," Alex Turner sings in "This House Is a Circus." In "If You Were There, Beware," they depict a voracious media machine addressing a victim: "Go on girl, go on give us something gruesome, we require your grief."
The band's response to all this is to become guarded and a little removed, qualities that come out in music that closes in on itself. Terse guitar riffs coil up into tight springs. Turner's voice gets a coat of echo. The retro feel of spidery, tremolo guitar lines, brightened occasionally by a keyboard shimmer, distance it from the immediate.
It's taut and dynamic enough, but the key is Turner's tenacious way of latching on to a lyric. Matching the guitars snarl for snarl, he remains a compelling storyteller, and if "Nightmare" misses some of the poetry and exhilaration of "Whatever," it has something more important: authenticity and integrity.
-- Richard Cromelin
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