"Favourite Worst Nightmare," Arctic Monkeys
Quick, which rock band holds the record for the biggest first-week album sales in British chart history? The Beatles? The Stones? Nope, it's the Arctic Monkeys, who earned the distinction with 2006's "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not," a smart, spiky collection of dance-floor observations and pogo-inducing punk rock. Songwriter Alex Turner has been rightly praised for that album's acutely detailed lyrics, which seem to honestly convey the feeling of being a regular young English kid out looking for a good time. But what happens when that regular kid turns into a star? The answer, at least judging from the Arctic Monkeys' new album, "Favourite Worst Nightmare," is that his music gets a little sharper and his words get a little snarkier.
Lean, propulsive numbers like the adulterer's tale of "Fluorescent Adolescent" and the hometown blues of "Old Yellow Bricks" showcase the warmer side of Turner's way with a character sketch, but scattered through the album are tracks like "Teddy Picker" and "Brianstorm," where the 21-year-old Sheffield native spits putdowns at uninvited backstage guests and music biz flacks. For someone who's capable of highly empathetic songwriting, taking potshots at such easy targets seems unfortunately cynical.
More welcome developments can be found in the Arctic Monkeys' music -- two years of touring has turned the quartet into a tighter and more resourceful musical ensemble than they were on their debut. Whether it's the melancholy guitar haze of "Only Ones You Know" or the skittering rhythms of "This House Is a Circus," "Nightmare" is the sound of a band building on its musical strengths in intelligent, original ways. Let's hope the musical maturity spills over into the lyrics next time around.
Favorite track: "Fluorescent Adolescent"
"Twelve," Patti Smith
Patti Smith hasn't made any easy choices on her new all-covers album, "Twelve." Given the provenance of tracks like "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Are You Experienced?" and "Gimme Shelter," it's no surprise that Smith's simmering, largely acoustic versions don't stand up particularly well to the originals. But Smith is able, by way of some clever sequencing, to suggest different ways these songs might be understood.
Take, for example, Neil Young's "Helpless" -- here given a nice, accordion-laced treatment. As performed by Young, the song is a simple and lovely ode to nostalgia, but Smith transforms it into a statement about political impotence by having it follow Tears for Fears' accusatory "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Likewise, Smith strips Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" of its bemused irony by pairing it with Bob Dylan's apocalyptic "Changing of the Guard."
Simply by presenting familiar songs in unfamiliar ways, Smith has achieved more with "Twelve" than most covers albums ever do.
Favorite track: "Helpless"
Listen to Patti Smith's "Gimme Shelter."
-- David Marchese