Maybe I misjudged the Arctic Monkeys. Maybe I spoke too soon. I did, after all, write 300 words a few weeks ago on why they’re an overrated example of produced British pop-punk, undeserving of the spotlight because all their songs sound the same and their lyrical and musical shtick is typical Brit-pop fare.
But maybe I spoke too hastily. As soon as I pressed play on Favourite Worst Nightmare, I released a huge sigh of relief for the freshly sped-up punk sound “Brainstorm” had to offer. I held my breath as I listened on, waiting for every song to sound identical--but when the intro riff reminiscent of Batman’s theme song came on for “Teddy Picker,” I relaxed a bit more. When “Fluorescent Adolescent” slowed things down with success, I sat back and realized that I was actually enjoying this album.
Nightmare doesn't share too much with the Arctic Monkeys’ previous release, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. On this album they sound refined rather than robust, with a newfound balance between hardcore punk (“Brainstorm” being the shining star) and a toned-down sound. Gone are the cluttered melodies of some years back where every riff sounded identical to the last.
Here, we experience some wickedly sneaky guitar work for “Balaclava,” a bouncy bass line on “D For Dangerous” and a more simplistic sound for tracks like “If You Were There, Beware.” They revisit their old sound with songs like “This House is a Circus,” but it’s tolerable because the band is now giving them a chance to shine rather than be enveloped in repetition.
Nightmare isn’t consistently great, however--there are a few duds in the second half of the album. The artier “Only One Who Knows,” with its violin and bogged-down pace, makes for a sincere but ineffective and dry track that never really builds up toward anything--and is very poorly placed in the middle of the 40-minute album. Similarly, “Old Yellow Bricks” falls short because of its repetition and anticlimactic nature.
Still, as a whole, Nightmare is a major step in the right direction for the Monkeys, and a tremendously successful example of their musical integrity, which we hadn’t fully seen before. If their debut album had a failing, it was that the boys stuck too closely to their forte; here, it’s that their experiments don't always take flight. But, hey--at least now it sounds like they’re actually trying.