An Ode to Favourite Worst Nightmare

Favourite Worst Nightmare, Arctic Monkeys’ sophomore album, is celebrating its tenth birthday this month. A decade on from its release, which promptly followed the band’s record-breaking debut, it remains as thrilling a listen as ever. Despite its quality, many overlook the wider importance of the record and view it plainly as another great Monkeys record. But Favourite Worst Nightmare is more significant than simply being filled to the brim with indie bangers.

This is the record that affirmed Arctic Monkeys’ viability as a truly great British band. Those (few) who suggested the band were yet another early-2000s indie flash-in-the-pan were shown to be misguided, and fans who had been previously enthralled by the heady concoction of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not were once again intoxicated. It also established a precedent of risk taking and experimentation: though not a dramatic departure from Arctic Monkeys’ signature mix of tight percussion, catchy riffs and incisive lyricism, the album featured a swathe of new sounds and ideas which made it decidedly unique both within the discography and within the industry more broadly. The band would go on to replicate this fervour for reinvention throughout their careers, notably on this writer’s favourite, Humbug, and commercial hit AM.

On an album featuring some of indie’s most iconic riffs, it might be easy to neglect Alex Turner’s masterful turn-of-phrase. But Favourite Worst Nightmare without a doubt showcases some of the most poignant and timeless lyricism from his impressive body of work. On standout track ‘Only Ones Who Know’, Turner laments love lost in the lines, “In a foreign place, the saving grace was the feeling/That it was her heart that he was stealing.” This couplet alone demonstrates Turner’s mastery of scene setting and rhyme. What’s equally as impressive is that he brings the same degree of craft to the album’s B-sides, of which ‘Too Much To Ask’ is a fantastic example. Heartfelt imagery like, “When you fit me/Like Sunday’s frozen pitch fits the thermos flask” is backed by a minor chord progression which is achingly relevant to anyone who has ever experienced longing.

Indeed, the sound of these tracks is so much a part of the album’s successes as a whole. Favourite Worst Nightmare’s influences are varied and far-reaching, ranging from 80’s dancehall to 70’s glam rock, and from spaghetti westerns to a funk song made famous by Daft Punk. Though the album doesn’t necessarily wear these influences on its sleeve, they can be found nestled in amongst the sing-along moments we all know and love. The band manifests their inspirations in the form of sampling (the organ in ‘505’ is a sample of the score of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly), pacing (the relentless surge of Queens of the Stone Age) and style (the up-beat rhythms drawn from ska and reggae). Driving all of this home are Turner’s sure-footed vocals, Jamie Cook’s moody guitar tones, Nick O’Malley’s meandering basslines, and Matt Helders’ super-human drum fills.

Favourite Worst Nightmare also brought the world some of Arctic Monkeys’ best-known and most-loved singles. Inimitable live favourites like ‘Brianstorm’ and ‘Teddy Picker’ always go down a treat at gigs and festival slots. ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ – though slightly diminished by just how bloody inescapable it is at indie nights up and down the country – remains an anthem not only for those who were adolescent at the time of the album’s release, but for all who have struggled through those awkward teenage years. And hidden gems like ‘The Bakery’ attest to the consistency of the band’s output, even on non-album material.

For many, this album, alongside its predecessor, is Arctic Monkeys. How many times have you read in YouTube comments or reviews of more recent albums something along the lines of “I wish they would go back to their old sound, their first two were so much better”? Though I don’t dispute the right to musical preference, Favourite Worst Nightmare acted as the very foundations of what these commentators and reviewers dislike so much. It served as the springboard for the brooding Humbug and, later, for both Suck It And See and AM. Most significantly, it taught fans of Arctic Monkeys to expect the unexpected, which makes this unusually long wait for a new album all the more exciting.

Make sure to check out our playlist on our Spotify account @TheGryphonMusic for a collection of hidden gems and inspirations of songs cited by the band!

Tom Paul

Image: NME

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