In 2006, a small indie rock band called the Arctic Monkeys made a splash when they released Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. This celebrated debut broke records when it became the fastest-selling debut album by a group in British history. The Sheffield-based band – at the time, comprised of lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Alex Turner, drummer Matt Helders, lead guitarist Jamie Cook, and bassist Andy Nicolson – channeled indie rock and the post-punk movement into a fast, slightly quirky album about English nightlife and the characters they encountered when they went out.
One year later, the Arctic Monkeys faced the task of launching their sophomore album in the shadow of their own success, the departure of Nicholson and his replacement with Nick O’Malley.
Enter Favourite Worst Nightmare, a fast-paced, rollicking album full of more clever lyrics and rolling guitar rhythms. Fortunately, their efforts on this album were just as good as the first; this album also debuted at #1 on the UK albums chart and was given the stamp of approval by The Guardian, who said that the Arctic Monkeys “successfully negotiated the daunting task of following up the biggest-selling debut album in British history.”
Fresh from a years’ worth of touring for Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, the boys had new experiences to pull from as well as a louder, more chaotic sound to play with. While their debut had been about going out in their familiar territory, Favourite Worst Nightmare explores a bit of their experiences they had outside of their comfort zone as a result of their early success. The first single off of the album, “Brianstorm,” is a direct reference to an L.A. music personality they met while touring, while songs like “Teddy Picker” and “If You Were There Beware” more generally discuss the band’s irritation with the unfortunate aspects of celebrity culture, specifically how fickle and invasive it can be.
On another hand, the album tackles a newfound maturity and emotional complexity that became a hallmark of their future work. Favourite Worst Nightmare is home to one of the Arctic Monkeys’s most popular singles, “Fluorescent Adolescent,” a bouncy ballad about a woman who looks back at the trysts of her youth and realizes that growing older isn’t very fun. Its light tone kind of masks the fact that this nostalgia is revealing how boring and disappointing life can be. “Fluorescent Adolescent” serves as the dividing point on the album, separating the louder, faster intro tracks from the slightly slower, more contemplative songs of the second half.
While Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not took on flirtation, Favourite Worst Nightmare shines a light on relationships–mainly ones that haven’t worked out for the better. “Balaclava” is a sassy track about how keeping your true feelings hidden helps to avoid heartbreak, though not for both people involved. Album highlights “Do Me a Favour” and “505” are darkly emotional tracks about the guilt that comes with hurting someone else. “Do Me a Favour” paints a picture of this point of view with a rolling drum beat and almost hypnotic guitar riff. “Do me a favor/Break my nose/Do me a favor/Tell me to go away…Perhaps fuck off might be too kind” Turner sings, guilt reverberating through the lyrics. “505” opens with organ chords and distant vocals to tell the story of a particularly difficult breakup.
Of course, the band couldn’t completely turn their backs on the subject matter that made them a success in the first place. “This House is a Circus” and “The Bad Thing” both delve into English nightlife again, only with a keener eye than they had previously. “This House is a Circus” explores the feeling of a house party, exploring how the euphoria of partying is so often manufactured. “The Bad Thing” feels almost like a cousin to the band’s debut single, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” with a twist: Turner has gone from pursuing to pursued, and the other person is attempting to cheat on a significant other.
Overall, Favourite Worst Nightmare is a more uptempo and aggressive album than the band’s debut, one that is tempered by the introduction of slower ballads that show off Turner’s growing vocal prowess. “Only Ones Who Know” is a beautiful, quiet love song unlike anything the band had released before. “Do Me a Favour” and “505” are also examples of this, but the instrumentation on these builds to a climax that makes both tracks fit seamlessly on this album categorized by loud, fast tracks. With Favourite Worst Nightmare, the Arctic Monkeys were able to prove that their debut success was not a flash in the pan. This sophomore album is a wholly consistent record that very clearly shows the band’s reaction to their own early success and learnings from their personal lives. Their sound and their lyrics were maturing right there along with them, giving us a glimpse into their consistently clever lyrics and evolving sound we would come to expect from them on future albums.