Pop - Lynsey Hanley wonders if the "biggest band since Oasis" aren't just a bunch of overhyped teena
In the coming week, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, the debut album by Arctic Monkeys, four youngsters from Sheffield with a daft name and a huge following, is expected to go straight into the charts at number one. When Conor McNicholas, editor of Britain's sole remaining weekly music magazine, NME, declared late last year that "Arctic Monkeys are going to be the biggest band this country's seen since Oasis" he was placing a pretty safe bet.
Are they deserving of such hyperbole? They are if you're 16 and crackers about music; just not if you're much older than that. Despite the wordy, sarcastic lyrics of their singer, Alex Turner, and their funk-influenced playing, they sound callow and under-rehearsed, as if ill-prepared for the world of number-one chart positions and appearances on Top of the Pops - which they've sniffily vowed never to appear on, perhaps in the knowledge that they are simply not ready. They sound like a work in progress: just like 19-year-olds, in fact, full of easily rubbed-off bravado and observations that are as abstract as they appear sage.
That is not to say they're a bad band. If you stumbled across them playing in a club one night, you'd be pretty encouraged at the state of today's youth: they knock out busy, funky, punk-pop songs, sing them with conviction, and show a pleasing disregard for the rock-music Luddism propagated by Oasis at the same stage in their careers. But they are not nearly good enough to warrant the ludicrous amount of press attention - all ecstatic, all laudatory, with many declaring them "the band of the year" (bearing in mind that it's only January) - that they've received, not only from the NME, but from the national newspapers.
Last autumn, when Arctic Monkeys hit number one with their second single, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor", many pop critics were caught short by their success. In an effort to keep up, news editors rushed into action, reporting that the band had built up its appeal using internet file-sharing sites and profiles on MySpace, the weblog on which new bands and their fans can network with each other. "Did we bollocks," retorted Turner, in a broadsheet newspaper interview of all places, showing the same pithy way with words that has led many critics to compare him with Jarvis Cocker (give him ten years, and we'll see).
If newspapers want to cover the kinds of bands that, a decade ago, would never have been written about beyond the music weeklies, they need to start hiring "the kids" to write about them. Unlike pop fans ten or 15 years younger, most music journalists - or, for that matter, music listeners - don't spend all their time instant-messaging, swapping MP3s and trawling MySpace. Perhaps I ought to, but I can't help feeling that all I would be doing is trying hopelessly to keep up with the kids, rather than finding music which excited me and that I believed would excite music fans of any age.
Whether Arctic Monkeys, despite their protestations to the contrary, used the internet to spread the word about their music, or whether it was done on their behalf by obsessive fans, it is still thril- ling to see how the internet, bolstered by a never-healthier live-music scene, has enabled fans to lead the media to new talent, rather than the other way around. I remember being 15 years old and picking up my copy of the Melody Maker to be told that Suede - an excellent, though ill-starred, group whose members found it hard to live up to their early hype and so took loads of drugs instead - was The Best New Band In Britain.
Fourteen years later, it's teenagers telling the NME who they think are the best bands. In the case of Arctic Monkeys, the newspaper pop sections have belatedly caught up with them both, but largely, I suspect, for fear of looking out of touch. Whatever this band possesses in youthful energy and rawness, it lacks the broader appeal of its label mates Franz Ferdinand and of fellow south Yorkshiremen Pulp. Trying to force 30-year-olds to like music made by 19-year-olds for 19-year-olds - well, it's like getting Whitney to dress up as Britney.
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is released by Domino Records on 30 January