Recording a disappointing follow-up to a thrilling debut is a British tradition as reliable as the changing of the guard. This year has already seen bummer sophomore efforts from Kaiser Chiefs and Bloc Party—and one from Art Brut is on the horizon, sorry to say. So whether the much-hyped Arctic Monkeys know it or not, they come into their second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, with something to prove. And they've met that challenge by proceeding cautiously, producing a modestly artier but otherwise unambitious retread of Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not.
Which is okay, for a variety of reasons. Although Whatever had its share of viscerally exciting and keenly observed lad-rock, it was also weighed down by sloppy filler. With two years of touring under their belts, Arctic Monkeys have acquired the skill to make even Favourite's mediocre songs sound taut. And it isn't like their style needed a major revamp. Arctic Monkeys play a less hooky brand of brat-punk than a lot of their peers and predecessors, but their off-kilter song structures—and Alex Turner's witty, effusive descriptions of youth culture—make them every bit as unique and vital as their supporters claim.
So while Favourite Worst Nightmare lacks any one song as brilliant as "Riot Van" or "From The Ritz To The Rubble," the album hangs together well, stringing together loud, bouncy, aggressive guitar-pop sketches like "Teddy Picker" and "D Is For Dangerous," which ride Turner's rapid-fire lyrics and almost sound like hip-hop in disguise. The record has its share of left-field surprises too, like the opener "Brianstorm" and the dark, anonymity-of-fashion story-song "Balaclava," which twist, turn, and startle like great fiction. Arctic Monkeys are hardly the most important rock act in the world, or even the UK. But unlike a lot of their competition, they're a good band getting better.