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Some Thoughts

The Buzz for Arctic Monkeys' Live Comeback Reminds Us That They're Timeless

Whatever you say about them, the band's slew of festival dates is a reason to get nostalgic for the past and excited for right now.

by Lauren O'Neill
30 January 2018, 12:17pm

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Everyone has a story about their first time. I'm not talking about anything as banal as sex. This is something much more important; maybe one of the brief flashes of transcendence that most of us actually get to experience in our lifetimes. For a lot of people, it happens when you're a teenager, when your brain is wide open to new possibilities, and a strange yearning in your chest that you can't name until years later longs for something more than the ordinariness of your life. The first time you listen to music that you understand, and that understands you, shapes you as a person forever.

For me, as for a lot of people who grew up in the Midlands and the north of England in the mid-2000s, it was the Arctic Monkeys, and specifically their 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. Sometimes I wish it were something less obvious, but whenever I listen back, I feel the familiar pang of desperate identification, and I know it could never have been anything else. Emerging off the back of a roaring UK scene characterised by the arty indie of The Libertines and The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys were four lads from Sheffield who made rock music about life and first love in a way that suddenly made your own boring experiences play technicolour: a taxi home after a night out became the site of an epic, a lairy bouncer was a villain of Shakespearean proportions. I felt as though I had finally eaten after a long hunger for something I didn't even know I wanted.

While smart and important in their own ways, Pete Doherty's dreamy utopian watercolours, and Julian Casablancas' dim portraits of smoky New York bars felt too abstract compared with Alex Turner's sharp-focus snapshots, which felt like they were describing places and people I knew. "Classic Reeboks, knackered Converse, or trackie bottoms tucked in socks" were all sights I saw daily, and now they'd been immortalised by rockstars. The lyrics gave my dull, Birmingham-based existence romance; the straight-up guitars and Matt Helders' relentless drums gave me a place to put my aimless teen fury.

For a while, I listened to Whatever People Say I Am tirelessly. As most people can with the first album they really loved, I'm still able to recite the entire thing. After a bit, I moved on to emo and punk, though I kept a soft spot (sometimes difficult considering Alex Turner's apparent transformation into... a cowboy?) and have dipped in and out of subsequent albums. What I do know, however, is that with a steady stream of records since 2006, Arctic Monkeys have fulfilled the purpose they did for me for countless teenagers over the years. For that reason, their 2018 live comeback, announced yesterday with an impressive list of summer festival headline slots beginning at Barcelona's Primavera Sound in June – tickets here – means a great deal to an awful lot of people.

For me, Arctic Monkeys live shows punctuated my teen years, and they feel like markers of where I was at the time: there was the Manchester show where Amy Winehouse supported them and watching her made me feel the same revelatory feeling as I had when I first heard Whatever People Say I Am; the Reading Festival show I don't really remember, because I was 15 and at Reading Festival. I've not watched them play live for years now, but the prospect of it lights the same feeling of excitement in me. They could easily be viewed as a run-of-the-mill rock band, and – despite the fact that AM, their last album, was their best in many years – I'm not sure that what they do could necessarily be viewed as particularly innovative anymore. But there's a reason why the crowd hums with static before an Arctic Monkeys show: watching them feels like both a return to being younger, and a realisation that the words you're singing along to still make total sense. The experience is timeless, in a way.

Alex Turner, for better or worse, narrated our teen years, gave meaning to our shit lives in grey British towns, made them beautiful, still does. That's what the best music does, and that Arctic Monkeys managed it – and remain doing so – on such a large scale, has got to count for something. Plus, you can't really argue with "Mardy Bum," can you?

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