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EW review: Arctic Monkeys hot, hot, hot

Also: Outstanding Davies, terrible Sly tribute

By David Browne
Entertainment Weekly



Ray Davies

(Entertainment Weekly) -- Arctic Monkeys have already been lumped in with all those post-punk spitfire bands from across the ocean, including their very own U.K. labelmates Franz Ferdinand. Yet there's a revealing moment on the Monkeys' "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" that trashes any comparisons.

Like many of their songs, ''The View From the Afternoon'' is a manic punk-metal roller-coaster plunge that seems to end -- and then, suddenly, starts up all over again.

That sense of the unexpected is key to Arctic Monkeys' appeal.

In their native England, they're plenty popular already: Last month, "Whatever People Say" became the fastest-selling debut in U.K. history. But their story isn't just about numbers: "Whatever People Say" is less obsessed with retro flavor than with uninhibited rock & roll, complete with a cocky but utterly charming leader.

That frontman -- singer, guitarist, and songwriter Alex Turner, all of 20 years old -- is unmistakably British in his delivery and slang; judging from droll song titles like ''Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong but ...,'' he's also smarter than your average laddie. Yet the rock club adventures of many of his songs will ring true to any twentysomething (or anyone who remembers what it was like to be that age).

First, he has to deal with bouncers (''From the Ritz to the Rubble''). Once inside, he's confronted with a band trying too hard to sound like something from the past (''Fake Tales of San Francisco''), so he checks out fellow nightlifers instead (the propulsive U.K. smash ''I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,'' where he mock-whimpers, ''I wish you'd stop ignoring me, because it's sending me to despair'').

Women -- probably unattainable ones -- are all around, and he addresses a particularly aloof lass, if only in his mind, in ''Still Take You Home.'' Later, he ruminates, with amusement and disgust, on the cops who harass his friends (''Riot Van'').

This club-crawler's-eye-view perspective sets Turner apart from his contemporaries (who don't nail nightlife details as well), as does the music.

Although tight, Arctic Monkeys are far less studied than the likes of Franz. Guitars and drums ricochet off each other; riffs are bounced around like soccer balls. With their kicky hooks, the songs owe more to Warped Tour thrashers than to stoic post-punk inspirations like Gang of Four. Although a few tracks amount to hand-me-downs (''Mardy Bum'' feels like a lo-fi ''Take Me Out''), they whip by so fast you barely notice them.

Arctic Monkeys could suffer the same fate -- they rose to fame awfully fast, thanks to the way in which their demos were passed around the Internet -- but the ride will have still been worth it.

EW Grade: A-

'Other People's Lives,' Ray Davies

Reviewed by Clark Collis


That the 61-year-old leader of the Kinks is only now releasing his first proper solo album, "Other People's Lives," must be some sort of cosmic clerical error. Just consider, momentarily, the far less talented bassists, drummers, and ex-New Kids on the Block-ers this means have beaten the man who wrote ''You Really Got Me '' and ''Lola'' to the punch.

But hey, better late than never. Certainly, "Other People's Lives" reveals that Ray Davies has lost little of his ability to marry great rock melodies to exquisitely offbeat lyrics (''Lola,'' remember, is a stadium anthem about canoodling with a probable transvestite).

The organ-led, gospel-choir-enhanced track ''Thanksgiving Day,'' for example, sounds at first like a lush hymn to poultrydom's least favorite 24 hours but is, in fact, a series of desolate vignettes that include the image of a lonely spinster praying for ''kisses all over her American face.'' This well-honed bait-and-switch technique is also evident on the hook-heavy yet vein-burstingly splenetic ''Stand Up Comic'' and ''Next Door Neighbour,'' probably the loveliest song ever written about bankruptcy and mental collapse.

Moreover, the Brit's once rather thin vocals seem to be getting richer with age, as demonstrated by his performance on the doom-laden ''After the Fall,'' a track that seems to reflect on Davies' 2004 shooting by a mugger in New Orleans but, eerily, predates that event.

True, the loosely anonymous musical backing on, say, ''Run Away From Time'' cries out for some berserk guitar chops from his brother, and fellow Kinks mainstay, Dave Davies. And no, there isn't a song here that matches the very best of his '60s output. But the fact that so many of the tracks are even in the same quality ballpark is saying a great deal.

EW Grade: A-

'Different Strokes by Different Folks,' Various Artists

Reviewed by Michael Endelman

The Grammy ''tribute'' to Sly Stone was an odd train wreck -- and so is "Different Strokes by Different Folks," an album of unimaginative covers and tame remixes by folks like Maroon 5, John Legend, and Steven Tyler. A few manage to twist something new out of the great material -- props to the Roots (''Everybody Is a Star'') and Big Boi (''Runnin' Away''). The rest feel merely like awkward, star-studded karaoke sessions.

EW Grade: D

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