Wednesday, 16 June 2010

2005 Arctic Monkeys: I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor

I'm getting a sense of deja vu here; just like Oasis in the nineties, Arctic Monkeys seemed to drop fully formed from a mould fired by a readymade fanbase built word of mouth and live performances with the corresponding white heat of media hype and critical expectation fanning the bellows. Just like Oasis, I'd heard of Arctic Monkeys before I'd actually heard anything by them. And then just like my initial reaction to 'Supersonic' (Oasis' debut single), hearing 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' for the first time left me bemused with an overriding sense of disappointment; just what was all the fuss about? In Oasis' case, their times benefited them and their crash glam wallop came as, if not exactly a breath of fresh air, at least an offering of recycled coolness and last gang in town identity that added a welcome freshness and bite in a chart awash with aimless, faceless dance acts and no guitar europop. Arctic Monkeys had no such helping hand; the mid 2000's had any number of indie rock acts with a whinge or a shout out for everyone. Most are now buried in nameless graves over in the indie graveyard.

But then again, the band can hardly be responsible for other the weight of other people's expectations, and it's clear from its opening chords that 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' will itself be making no concession to the contemporary; on its own, the lyric namechecks 1984 electropop and Duran Duran hits from before chief Monkey and songwriter Alex Turner was even born ("I said, I bet that you look good on the dancefloor, dancing to electro-pop like a robot from 1984"). It's all metaphor of course, a twisted 'Teenage Kicks' of Turner imagining the cold and disinterested girl who's winding him up ("I wish you'd stop ignoring me, because it's sending me to despair") looking good dancing to cold, disinterested music is a put down of sorts.

But to look at it another way (whilst wearing my post-modern hat of pretension), it could also be reference to the dystopian, no love future ("Oh, there ain't no love, no Montagues or Capulets are just banging tunes and DJ sets and dirty dancefloors, and dreams of naughtiness!") Orwell predicted in 'Nineteen Eighty Four', giving reassurance that if this girl doesn't like him then who cares? She's not going to be liking anybody.
Is that pushing it too far? Maybe, maybe not - hindsight has revealed Turner to be a songwriter of no small talent, and subtext is a sign of strength for any lyricist. Regardless of the 1984 references though, this is no La Roux or Ladytron style new romantic revival; in tone, 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor's wendy house garage harks back further again to the jerky guitar shuffles of late seventies/early eighties post punk Postcard or Fast Records acts, albeit with added muscle and purpose that's as rock and roll as Turner's quiff but with an earthy, do it yourself charm that's almost skiffle.

And that's kind of my problem with all this; although Turner doesn't outright rape his influences the way Oasis did, 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' still flashes with the magpie approach of a songwriter trying on other people's glass slippers for size. Orange Juice, Josef K, The Pop Group, The Mekons...even Bogshed (listen to this back to back with 'Fat Lad Exam Failure') they're all here in a who's who of classic indie pick and mix that renders 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' prime C86 material updated to C2005. Crucially though, it's not updated by enough to pull it free the gravity field of its obvious influences or for it to lose its hesitant stutter born of an artist yet to find his own voice. A good debut rather than a great one.

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