As ridiculous as the fuss surrounding the ice-breaking debut of English media darlings Arctic Monkeys was - creating a bar of expectancy that not even the band's bed-buddies on street mag NME's best British albums of all time could vault - the microscope that the band is under this time around is perhaps even more scrutinizing. With a band like Arctic Monkeys, everyone is just waiting for them to screw up somehow, and they get their first chance with the fab five's sophomore effort, Favourite Worst Nightmare, an album that crashes through the gates at the same breakneck speed of their aforementioned debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not.
The album's opening track, "Brainstorm," is like the blast of a gunshot before a 50 yard dash. The stampeding drums and careening pace bring to mind the running-on-hot-coals opener to the band's debut, "The View from the Afternoon," except that it is more a terse microburst of energy than the decidedly melodic "Afternoon."
Next up is new ground for the Monkeys - "Teddy Picker," which is stapled by an unmistakably blues-influenced classic rock riff that shows the band's roots not just in British punk like the Clash and the Jam but in the heavy arena rock of The Who and Cream. It's the best rejuvenation of heavy blues music since the White Stripes channeled B.B. King on "Ball and a Biscuit."
For the most part, though, the band sticks to the formula that worked so well the first time around, but they are smart enough to freshen things up with more creative freedom. "Fluorescent Adolescent" is a playfully poppy detour, playing the same role that "When the Sun Goes Down" did the first time around.
Unfortunately, it sounds like the band exhausts their musical resources in those first significant blasts of energy: the momentum sputters sporadically as the album reaches the completely disposable ballad "Only Ones Who Know." The Monkeys remain loud but not as powerful, and in the worst cases, the riffs get just plain boring. One exception is "This House is a Circus," a title that perfectly establishes the twisted sideshow carnival ride into which the song transforms.
The band avoided this musical fatigue on their debut by adding a few lush, melodic songs towards the end that worked terrifically. The Arctic Monkeys don't seem to have the chip on their shoulder to sustain the type of genuine emotion for an entire album the way the Clash or the Sex Pistols could. They cite these bands as influences, but Joe Strummer and Johnny Rotten were possessed by venomous commentaries on the politics of the globe in a way that Monkeys frontman Alex Turner just doesn't seem to conjure.
The phenomenon of Arctic Monkeys: the image is ultimately served well by Arctic Monkeys, the band, even if the record isn't exactly perfect. British columnists need to face the reality that they are not dealing with the second coming of the Beatles (they made the same mistake a decade earlier with Oasis). The fracas isn't all smoke and mirrors, though. There is some merit in the hype, and with each new release, these five Brits are proving their worth in the spot that has been saved for them in popular music.