The cheekiest of names, better suited for the funny pages than the top of the pops; sold-out shows with fans droning along to lines even the doe-eyed singer barely remembers; the ''fifth-best British album ever," according to British music weekly NME; and the fastest-selling UK debut ever -- these are the things one hears about the Arctic Monkeys before one hears a single note.
This is about to change. After a breathtaking ascension, the Yorkshire punk-pop quartet's excellent debut, ''Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not" (Domino), is released today in the States.
The Monkeys' rise offers an intriguing example of how to succeed without trying too hard. The quartet of singer/guitarist Alex Turner, guitarist Jamie Cook, bassist Andy Nicholson, and drummer Matt Helders formed in 2003, half of them having just received their instruments for Christmas. After learning a few covers (the Vines, the White Stripes) and discovering, slowly, that the soft-spoken Turner oozed with gravitas, they were ready for brilliance. By the end of 2004, the bidding war was on, and their gigs had morphed into battles pitting their interminable, razor-sharp hooks against their fans' loving shrieks. Most important, their demos were crisscrossing the Internet. Outside of the strictures of labels, promotion, and distribution, the Monkeys became a band fans believed in. They were born in the middle of nowhere; they have been passed around the world, like a secret.
The appeal is obvious. Turner, Cook, and Nicholson careen capably from the fits-and-starts pogo of labelmates Franz Ferdinand to the dark, hazy swarm of Nirvana, while Helders's furious, made-for-arenas drumming feels as though he were willing the band into superstardom. One of their best songs is ''I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," which hurtles toward hyperspeed, threatening to collapse at any moment under its enormous drum rolls and locust-like guitars. They buzz with the spontaneity of kids with short-attention spans -- there are enough hooks for 50 songs, but 13 will have to suffice.
Like all great pop bands, the Monkeys have a little something for everyone. But most of all, they have Turner. The 19-year-old has assimilated a wide range of lyrical influences, from little-known British poet John Cooper Clarke to Morrissey to late-1990s independent hip-hop. Oddly enough, it's this last ingredient that is the most recognizable. Turner fixates on all the classic topics of British pop (working-class boredom, girls,
the pastoral vs. the factory, etc.) but with a keen, man-of-the-streets attention to detail. The gorgeous, lilting ''A Certain Romance" begins with Turner's descriptions of Reeboks and ringtones but fans out toward something greater, something profound yet murky. ''The point's that there isn't no romance around there," he cries, never bothering to explain. The infectious, disco-thrashing ''Dancing Shoes" tells the story of a night when you've ''seen your future bride," only the song ends, in a mess of spiky guitars and drums, and you're left ''waiting and waiting."
These are anthems for a world where exciting things are always on the verge, only they rarely approach. For the four members of the Arctic Monkeys, that is about to change.