The question for today is does 'The Sophomore Slump' have to be a bad thing? I say, not really. Jimi's Axis: Bold As Love, Massive Attack's Protection, and De La Soul Is Dead are three examples of classic second albums that are somewhat less than their predecessors. However, Favourite Worst Nightmare, the Arctic Monkeys' second album, is not good enough to be on that list... But, it's not really a slump either. I'd say it's more akin to albums like U2's October, Pearl Jam's Vs., or Interpol's Antics, albums that are good, and will hopefully lead to something better, but will be forever compared to the superior debuts.
The album's strength is in its opening bum rush. Despite some writers claiming that it's too hectic, I find first single & opener, "Brianstorm" to be the exact opposite - something can't be hectic if it's expertly measured and delivered. This is the Monkeys after a tune up, firing on all cylinders, and it's completely vicious; Matt Helders storms center stage after merely hinting on the debut that he's one of the finest new drummers in music. "Teddy Picker" and "D Is For Dangerous" are both as strong as the best songs from the first album, with the latter begging to be blaring out of indie club P.A.'s everywhere. Along with track 4, "Balaclava", the band has used the first 10 minutes to set you up with a more sinister sound, their melodies snaking their way through choppy riffs and knotty rhythms.
Then comes "Fluorescent Adolescent". It has the same summery lilt of "Mardy Bum" from the debut, but the narrative never takes off; it wants so bad to live up to vintage Blur ballads, but doesn't come close. It's followed by the airy, lightweight "Only Ones We Know", which is completely forgettable. If you have a superb drummer, and a new bass player, why aren't you showing them off 100% of the time? These two songs accomplish nothing except sapping the album's unstoppable momentum from the first four tracks. The Monkeys never really recover, but they do try.
Of the second half, "Do Me A Favour" is the best; it sounds like nothing else in the band's discography, which is excellent. It's a subtle, simmering number, floating an emotion that young bands don't usually tackle: worry. Alex Turner's uncertainty is tight throughout the intro, as his breaking-up tale winds him up until he lets loose at the end with "perhaps 'fuck off' might be too kind". "This House Is A Circus" and "If You Were There, Beware", are fun but they seem almost too complex for their own good. Guitarist Jamie Cook plays with some new tones and effects, and they work nicely, but the resulting songs are both more like a few song fragments pasted together. They'll probably work better live, as will "Old Yellow Bricks", which is little more than a good danceable groove. "The Bad Thing" sounds like a forgotten outtake from the debut, and closer "505" isn't the slow-burning epic it wants to be; by the time Turner is yelling in your ear, the song has bored you, and you're in the other room making a sandwich. Let's hope the Arctic Monkeys' career doesn't follow that lead.
MUSIC: Arctic Monkeys' Favourite Worst Nightmare
- Arctic Monkeys website