Only 15 months passed between Arctic Monkey's debut and their 2nd album. They'd also found the time to record and release Leave Before The Lights Come On, which seems to be relatively unknown and unloved these days, but is a superb single, and the Who's The Fuck Arctic Monkey's EP (Despair In The Departure Lounge is one of their best ever songs). They were still everyone's Favourite New Band by this point. The easy option would have been to release Whatever... Mk2. Make another album about growing up in Yorkshire, and the scraps they got in. Expectation was so high, and clearly the demand would have been there.
Instead, in that short 15 months, they turned round an album with a more mature sound and new themes. The build up to the album was at fever pitch, when they dropped the lead single Brianstorm. An exhilarating, beast of a tune, heavier than anything they'd previously released, about a Record Label executive. Nothing like a single should be. Certainly not from the hottest band in the country. This was merely a sign of a band who were only going to do things their way.
The album was darker than it's predecessor. Teddy Picker (I saw them play Astoria (RIP), just before the album was released, and it was a clear stand out from the gig.) Continuing the theme of sneering at the circus that they'd found themselves in. Ridiculing the nature of it.
D is for Danger and Balaclava are probably the closest songs to the debut, which build up to Fluorescent Adolescent. A big sister to Mardy Bum, and closing the first half of the album. A perfect pop song, reflecting on past relationships and growing up.
The 2nd half showed a more notable change. One of a band willing to push things further forward. Only One's who know, more than a few steps away from FA, a slow, wistful, melancholic tune. The 1-2 punch of Do Me A Favour and This House Is a Circus are exhilarating. A band with new confidence found, exploring where they can go next. Both songs, build and twist and turn. Turner's lyrical skill continuing to grow. No longer content on commentating on the every day, but dark break up songs from the perspective of the one in the wrong and analysing the new bizarre world that they've found themselves in. It's a heady mix of the youthful naivety, and exuberance, that made the debut such a, but a new found wariness of the world they've found themselves in. The ability to create these songs without alienating their fanbase, isn't an easy task. Many bands fall on the wayside, by trying to repeat the first album, yet not actually having lived that life for several years. On the flip side, no one cares about millionaire rock stars having a shit time of it all.
The album continually switches between the 2 themes, not necessarily unconnected, of Love lost and broken, but of the music industry and people trying to steal their souls. This gives it a much darker tone than the debut, and maybe all of their albums. It still contains all of the energy and thrill that the debut provided, but with more assuredness. Matt Helders drums continue to drive the album, and Nick O'Malley (making his recording album debut) has some superb baselines (Yellow Bricks and House is a Circus the obvious examples). Turner's lyrics are never out of place, nor too try hard.
The album opens with the heaviest song they'd done to date, about the music industry and the (badly dressed) chances. It ends with 505. A song that proved just how great they could, and would, become, even if they've not managed to quite repeat that trick yet. It's brooding, and some of his finest vocal work, not just then, but now. A love song to the one he barely see's. At 2 minutes 30, when the song goes up the final notch, Turners Vocal become a yelp, I still get goosebumps. I know it's coming, but it's that good. It was capturing the feeling that anyone has felt when in love, but can't be there with them.
When the argument/debate started about our favourite albums, I straight away called this as my favourite. I'm still evaluating, but it's everything a 2nd album should be. They've not tried to repeat the debut to make sales, but they're the still the same band you fell in love with. I prefer the darker tone, the shift in tempos, the ability that Turner found to make his lyrics more ambiguous, but more interesting. It also gave a glimpse into the different directions that the band would take themselves, not just on to the 3rd album (though maybe no one expected it to go quite that way), but beyond that.