Over the weekend, between Chicago hotdogs, Chicago milkshakes, Chicago pizzas and Chicago ice cream, I had time to commute. Chicago, a bit like LA, is a driver’s city. But unlike LA, which is flat down to the water but ringed by hills, Chicago is flat, Midwest style. Big, fat roads, multi-lane highways and the prospect of the imposing, grandiose skyline never too far off in the distance, driving in Chicago is a cathartic experience. It was making our way down Lakeshore Drive that I was reintroduced to Arctic Monkeys’ debut ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, an album so self-assured and young, brash and loud that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. The flatness of Chicago makes you listen. There is no climb to take your mind off the music, no undue revving of a hard-working engine to disrupt your focus. ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ is a spectacular debut but it was sophomore effort ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ – and my own driving experiences with that album – that came to mind as I listened to Alex Turner and his mates vamping it up on their boisterous first album.
‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ is more fun than ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’. It doesn’t look like it on its face because ‘Whatever People…’ is so aggressively upbeat such that even when the Monkeys are taking on prostitution (‘When The Sun Goes Down‘), they’re doing it with thrashing guitars and a drum beat so unremitting that it’s hard to think of anything else. But ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, in the way that follow-ups are wont to do, is more ‘mature’ then its predecessor and so the kicks, when they come, are bigger still because Turner and the louts are pickier in meting them out. The album, accordingly, is terrific driving music. In the low Nick Cave-y tones of ‘D Is For Dangerous‘ , through the reverberated bliss of ‘Only Ones Who Know‘, in the jangly, jumpy pop-rock of ‘Fluorescent Adolescent‘ and the skittering discomfort of ‘This House Is A Circus‘, the full spectrum of gear shifts, learner drivers, broken indicators, windscreen wipers and radio surfing is housed. The transportation for the entire final year of my high school career, all emotions and exams, lust and heartbreak is bound up in this album. That’s a lot.
This track might well be my favourite from the album because it seems to be a microcosmic expression of all that the album contains; it is measured and mysterious, cinematic and curious, never hinting at the explosive conclusion it packs. There is also something about the casual way Turner croons, ‘Do me a favour… and break my nose’ which is totally arresting. ‘Perhaps fuck off might be too kind’ is another gem. Maybe what I’ve always liked about the Monkeys is the way some aspect of violent expression always underpins their work. There are no half measures with the Sheffield quartet. ‘Do Me A Favour’, like many tracks on ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, vaguely hints at taking the same ponderous path as ‘Only Ones Who Know’ which precedes it. The tom-heavy drum kit is consistently outgunned by guitars, keeping check on the whole thing as Turner’s vocals shift almost imperceptibly from verse to chorus and back again. But there is a lingering tension, a simmering unease which informs the track and makes it such a riveting listen. The drums never fully fade to black, nor are we ever fully convinced that Turner isn’t going to push it further. Arctic Monkeys do eruptions too well to leave two tracks in a row hovering at mid-tempo. The burst, when it comes, is better for having been delayed. It catches you off guard, stabs at the cocoon of comfort the 2’37” prior had woven and generally makes me want to drive quickly and recklessly. Which can only be a good thing.
Arctic Monkeys – Do Me A Favour