The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

You'll Never Make a Monkey Out of Me (to be said in the voice of Dr. Zaius from the Planet of the Apes Musical)

So I'm confused. I was supposed to love the Arctic Monkeys three months ago when they were "underground." But now they've gotten more mainstream. They were on Saturday Night Live, tickets for last night's concert at the Henry Fonda Theater were going for $250 on Ebay and most scary of all, last night's venue was packed with agents and "Hollywood types." The horror.

This left me in a quandry. Since I'm a "blogger," aren't I supposed to be ahead of those types? O Aren't they supposed to read me to find out what's hip and what's cool? But wait, when I told people that I was seeing the Arctic Monkeys, most people hadn't even heard of them. So was I still cool and underground for getting tickets to the show? My head was spinning madly. This was going to be tougher than I thought. Did I like them? And if how how much? Did I like "like" the Arctic Monkeys? Or was I supposed to sell my two tickets for a week's salary? I knew immediately that I really needed to tap into my keen blogger powers of perception and analysis.
But then wait...there's I walked into the theater, a terrible thought crossed my mind. Maybe I was supposed to hate them now because they're too mainstream. I mean maybe all this love was really just a way of masking my hate. And what would I do in four months when "I Bet That You Look On the Dancefloor" is being played at Bar-Mitzvah's nationwide? This was fucking difficult.

Of course, I'm being sarcastic and this situation hasn't just been pointed out by me, as its been eloquently satirized by others. In particular, I recommend checking out Best Week Ever's hilarious Four Stages of the Arctic Monkeys (click here).

But the whole instant deification of a group that was unsigned and unknown six months ago, truly epitomizes the insanity and absurdity of living in this Internet age that we've somehow stumbled into.

To recap if you aren't a music nerd, the Arctic Monkeys are a band out of Sheffield, England that has been getting furious amounts of buzz on both sides of the ocean over the past few months. The furor started towards the end of last year when on the strength of some Internet demos, they swept Britain by storm. The Brit tabloid, NME named their debut album the fifth best album of ALL TIME, and everyone in the entire world was henceforth captivated by their stirring guitar rock anthems.

Oh, you didn't notice when that happened to you. Perhaps that's because the echo chamber of the Internet makes everything seem much larger than it is. In reality, the Arctic Monkeys phenomenon was the real deal in England, as their album's first week sales broke all records in Limey Land. But over here, things have been more tame, as the band broke into the charts at #23. Which explains why most people that you talk to really have no idea who the Arctic Monkeys are.

But if you read the "mainstream press" (to be said with a roll of the eyes and a stomp of the foot) thinks the Artic Monkeys are the real deal, or least if you believe a gushing LA Times review of the Monkey's San Fran performance two days ago or a recent New York Times article that declared them massively talented and their album a "modern classic," or even if you believe rapper/political expert/Genesis groupie, Kanye West who delivered this head-scratching comment several days ago: "The guy on the drums is real tight, man. He's got that whole British vibe going on and he brings that Phil Collins, Genesis sound to the table. I can always tell if a band have a British rhythm section due to the gritty production."

Sidenote: Is it me or does Kanye West starting to sound like Hansel from Zoolander, making a bunch of comments that strain so hard to sound deep but are everything but. It's only a matter of time before Kanye drops, "Sting, he's a real hero of mine. The music he's made over the years. I don't listen to it much. But the fact that he's doing it. I respect that."

But I'm rambling again, back to the Arctic Monkeys. Basically, what this band is notable for is harnessing the power of the Internet to blow up really fast. They're essentially the Howard Dean of music. Rocketing to becoming an immediate front runner and much hyped sensation only to spur an immediate backlash, where people disavow that they'd ever liked him in the first place.

So right now, if you're keeping score, the Artic Monkeys are somewhere in that crucial in-between stage. Think the moments between when Howard Dean got those dual Newsweek and Time covers but well before "the scream" that followed the Iowa primary.

As for my opinions on the Monkeys, I'd downloaded a few of their tracks and had liked but not loved what I'd heard. I liked them enough to put hem on mix CD's I've made, but didn't like them enough to actually buy the album when it came out. That sort of like. But nonetheless, from the incredible things I'd heard about them, I was expecting my world to be thrown upside down by the insane genius of the band. Okay, perhaps not, but I was expecting to be pretty impressed by their live performance.

But to be quite honest with you, the thing that impressed me the most about the band was that they came onstage to Warren G's "Regulate." Yeah, you heard me right, it definitely was a clear black night and a clear white moon and at that moment, I can't lie, I was pretty sure the Arctic Monkeys were going to deliver the show of a lifetime. But they didn't.

First off, don't get me wrong. The Arctic Monkeys aren't bad. They're pretty good. But when I saw them live, one fact became unmistakably clear: the Arctic Monkeys are nothing more than four 19 year olds with a talent for writing fairly catchy songs.

I'll put it this way. Think back to when you were 19 years old. How ready were you to be a rock star? I don't know about you but when I was 19 years old the only two things I knew how to do well were hit a baseball and take a bong rip (and to be quite honest, the only difference between now and then is that I probably can't hit very well any more....a baseball that is [insert drum roll here]).

Instantly, it struck me that all this hype, all this attention, all this ink was being spent on four teenagers who were only a "pretty good," but far from great band. A band that clearly has a great deal of potential and one day may deliver on the great things that were being said of them, but right now I really would only classify them as slightly better than the Libertines but not as good as Bloc Party.

During the band's 50-minute set they ran through all the songs you may have heard from the Monkeys, "Fake Tales of San Francisco," "When the Sun Goes Down," "Put on Your Dancing Shoes," "I Bet That You Look Good...", and no one can deny that those songs are very catchy, very poppy and quite good songs. But outside of those four songs and maybe two others, the rest of the concert was filler, a bunch of songs that sounded like a bunch of 19-year olds who really liked The Libertines, The Strokes, early get the drift.

There is no denying that Monkeys have a substantial amount of talent and they put on a fun show. Not good. Not great. Just solid. They clearly aren't any sort of musical virtuousos which of course, isn't mandatory to be a great band (see the Ramones and The Sex Pistols) however it would've been nice to hear one or two searing guitar solos. Didn't happen. Watching them live was a rather pedestrian, like listening to the album at a really high volume.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to hate on them, just state that the astronomical levels of buzz they've generated is not exactly warranted. Onstage, Alex Turner, the Monkeys' lead singer is fairly tentative, occasionally shuffling around with his guitar from one side of the stage to the other, seeming as though he doesn't quite know what to do. For most of the show, he rocked a hoodie up and you couldn't really see his face. Essentially, he looked like what he was: a teenager who hasn't yet learned how to rock a crowd. As for the rest of the band, they displayed a workman-like facility with their instruments and pretty much remained stationary. This is expected. They're 19 years old. Nonetheless, it didn't seem to matter, the LA poseurs in the front of the crowd didn't seem to notice. They went wild anyways (and I don't even want to get into the 50-year old executive type in a shirt and tie who immediately called his wife [I presume] when he left the venue and said: Wow, those dudes totally rawked!!")

People often talk about rock as a young man's art form. This of course, is unquestionably true. At 23 years old Bob Dylan and Neil Young were dropping albums like "Bringing It All Back Home" and "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere," two of the most brilliant albums ever produced. But the difference between a 23-year old and a 19-year old is staggering. At 19, no one has settled into themselves and everyone seems to be unsure of everything: what girl to like, what profession to have, do I prefer Coors Light or Bud Light? Those types of concerns. I mean, at 19, I was pretty damned certain that I was going to go to Columbia Law School to be an entertainment lawyer. The truth is my 24-year old self would've wanted to knock my 19-year old self out, as I'm sure my 34-year old self will look my blogging as puerile scribbling (at least one can hope).

The point is, how can one expect a bunch of 19-year olds to be musical saviors. I'm aghast that the press could be this lazy to annoint the Arctic Monkeys as the chosen ones. I'm not saying that in four years the Arctic Monkeys might be the best band in the world. They are certianly talented and have the potential to one day be something great. The lead singer has a great lead singer' s voice, one that translates infinitely better to an album than it does live, and they write some pretty clever pop songs that no doubt would be great to hear while drinking a couple beers in a bar somewhere.

But it remains to be seen whether the Monkeys will ever deliver on their early promise. They might actually peak young, a result of too much too soon. They might just try to copy their sound for subsequent albums since it worked so well on this one. Or they may re-invent themselves and continue to develop as artists. One really can't say. It will be a shame
though if they don't develop, because they certainly do have the potential to be something truly excellent. They just aren't there quite yet, a fact that their live show, at least for me, clearly illustrated.

If I had to guess at the future of the Arctic Monkeys, I'd point to the example of Howard Dean, the first but definitely not the last instant sensation that the Internet has crowned. Soon, there will be a backlash against this band in cool circles, but eventually they'll get over it. The Monkeys won't turn into the next Beatles just like Dean didn't become the next JFK. The truth is they'll probably find their own niche somewhere, just like Dean did in becoming head of the Democratic Party. So don't worry if you didn't jump onto the Arctic Monkeys bandwagon early enough, it's the 21st century, within 15 minutes the media and the Internet will build a new hero only to destroy them six months later. By the way, I don't know if you guys have heard, but there are these four 14-year olds that have made a two-song demo in an industrial slum in Brighton, England. They call themselves the The Almost Readies. They're going to be huge. Better add them to your Myspace friends list soon.

Passion of the Weiss Rating: 7 crucifixes out of 10


At 9:16 PM, Blogger amphimacer said...

Howard Dean never really peaked, though, like a number of politicians who do well in smaller places (Vermont, Nova Scotia, the U.S. Senate), he had qualities that just did not translate well to the larger arena: thoughtful, nuanced commentary does not fly on the national scene, and, as JFK proved in 1960, substance does not matter as much as surface (I am not suggesting that it would have been a good thing had Nixon won in 1960; it wasn't good in 1968, was it?). But George Harrison was 19 when the Beatles started their recording career, and Mozart started pretty young, too. Yes, some development is needed before you do your best work, and "Love Me Do" was not George's best, any more than Mozart's first piano concerto was his (mind you, at 16 Mendelssohn wrote some damn fine music). On the other hand, we're talking about the best here, aren't we? Neil Young, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Mozart -- you're too young to remember when every singer-songwriter from John Prine to Bruce Springsteen was the next Dylan (when I was writing reviews in my university paper, I kind of hinted that Ian Thomas might be the next Neil Young, and I apologize to everyone, but his first single sure sounded that note), but we're always looking for the next big thing, aren't we? And it's kind of no-lose for the writer, isn't it? If the group really turns out great, he was ahead of everyone in recognizing their greatness, and if they fizzle out, no one remembers. The critic who told Keats to go back to medical school, or the guy who wrote that Manet's painting was shit, they're footnotes in history, but that's better than not being in history at all. I say, write what you feel is right. (Of course, they also say that everyone ought to believe in something, and I believe I'll have another beer.)

At 3:22 AM, Anonymous matt said...

That was perhaps the most text I've read on a single rock band outside of a mag- but it was all very blog worthy indeed. Is it me or does Alex Turner sound a little Jack White-ish? esp. on I bet..Dancefloor..?

At 4:01 AM, Blogger Nate said...

Yeah I recall getting a Passion of the Weiss mix with an Arctic Monkey's track on it. They are alright, but I don't see what all of the hype is about. However, I won't deny that I blast "look good on the dance floor" every once in a while.

At 12:29 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Nice comments Amphimacer...great points. The only reason why I compared the Monkeys to the Beatles etc. is because the hype out of England and in some quarters in the US is deafening.It's a shame too because while they're a solid band, you're right no one can live up to those comparisons.

Thanks Matt, I don't really see the White comparison in the way he sings but there is prolly a little similiariy in how they almost sneer their lyrics at times.

Nate, the CD is prolly worth getting . It does have 5 or 6 really solid tracks, but honestly, I'll take the Bloc Party SIlent Alarm album or Franz Ferdinand's First two or the Futurehead's last album ahead of it, if you're talking poppy brit rock

At 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

big fan of your blog.

At 8:44 AM, Blogger Ian said...

I can think of a lot of bands the Arctic Monkeys sound like, but Phil Collins is not one of them. I'm confused by the quote as a whole; Phil Collins' trademark drum sounds are enormous, almost synth-like. Gritty? Fuck, was anything about "No Jacket Required" gritty? "Easy Lover"? Should I stop writing the word "gritty"?

At 6:27 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

I'm starting to think that Kanye West just doesn't know a whole lot about music and is nothing more than a good Rza impersonator. Seriously, if you knew how to work a sampler and a drum machine and pro tools, then took an old soul sample and laid a breakbeat over it you too can be Kanye West. But he is gritty. Not gritty in the traditional sense...but gritty in the way that black people mean it. Which is more meaningful I think.

At 4:49 PM, Anonymous a lee said...

the fact that you referred to kanye west as a "genesis groupie" and then compared him to Hansel from Zoolander is probably the most hilarious thing ever written about kanye...thanks for the LOL
(note: i was kidding about using the phrase "LOL.")


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