Reflecting on hype in an article a year ago, I made a dire prediction for Arctic Monkeys. Barely out of their teens, the band had arrived on a sudden wave of online buzz to deliver "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not," which became the fastest-selling debut in British history. "What's left to achieve after your musical baby steps have been pronounced the pinnacle of verse and chorus? " I wrote. "The sophomore slump is a given; the prognosis is grim."
After listening to "Favourite Worst Nightmare," in stores tomorrow, allow me to update: Forget about the dreaded decline. Arctic Monkeys have moved from their alarmingly evolved infancy into rock toddlerhood with glibness, swagger, and whip-smart songs intact. "Brianstorm," the lead single and opening track, is a hard, arch spy theme. While the drummer beats us to a pulp (Matt Helders has taken up boxing and it shows), Jamie Cook surfs his guitar's neck with rancor. Singer Alex Turner -- with signature economy -- sketches a weird fan they met in Japan: "We can't take our eyes off the T-shirt and tie combination/ See you later innovator."
For all its charms, the song doesn't reach out and hurl you into the mosh pit like "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" did. In fact the whole album is less instantly exhilarating, less succinct, than its predecessor. Snide beats and stiff licks redolent of the Jam and the Clash resurface on "D Is for Dangerous," "Balaclava," "The Bad Thing," and "Old Yellow Bricks." But on the whole the record is heavier, and the Sheffield foursome (bassist Nick O'Malley replaced an officially "fatigued" Andy Nicholson last year) wears it well.
Monster riffs crush the sharp angles and jaunty mood on "This House Is a Circus," and "If You Were There, Beware" flirts with thrash-metal and prog. Tightly coiled "Do Me a Favour" splits open at the midpoint and spills its insides. The darkness feels like a natural extension -- it's been a challenging year for the young, media-shy musicians -- and leavens the band's disaffected narratives with newfound depth.
That new weightiness extends to Turner's lyrics. He's outgrown the acutely observed portraits of hook - ups and underage drinking that filled the band's debut. Now 21, and no less skilled a storyteller, Turner turns his attention to the elusiveness of true romance on the shimmering "Only Ones Who Kno w," and the disappointment of watching a former "Fluorescent Adolescent" settle into a certain sort of adulthood: "You used to get it in your fishnets/ Now you only get it in your nightdress/ Discarded all the naughty nights for niceness/ L anded in a very common crisis."
The sprawling album closer, "505," begins as an impressionist journey to a hotel room, picks up speed in anticipation of a lover's wrath, and erupts into fuzz and chime when it's time, Turner yowls, "to greet me with goodbye." Touring plays havoc with one's love life, but it makes bands better.