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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not

This may be old hat now because Arctic Monkeys' debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not, has sold a lot of copies (360,000 and counting in the UK), but I still think their name is one of the dumbest band names I've ever heard.

Hearing their name reminds me of a scene in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People. Tony Wilson talks about the worst band name he had ever heard: Barabbas. To take a cue from that conversation, I'll substitute Barabbas with Arctic Monkeys. Can you really imagine people saying . . .

"Who do we want? Arctic Monkeys!"
"When do we want 'em? Now!"


Again, I don't care how many records they've sold (supposedly it's the fastest-selling record of all time in the UK), the name just doesn't have the kind of ring that names like Franz Ferdinand, Joy Division or Oasis have. Those names don't evoke images of monkeys swinging around in frozen weather. But, names are just names - the music defines the name, goofy or not.

So far, what I've heard from Arctic Monkeys is a rather harder-sounding kind of dancey post-punk. I refuse to call them "the new Franz Ferdinand" because Franz Ferdinand is Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys is Arctic Monkeys. As much as they may generally sound alike, they are two separate bands with different influences. Anyway, the point is that Arctic Monkeys have a sound, but their name still doesn't hold up well.

I think about some of worst band names I've ever heard. My friend Goose told me he once played in a band called Stool (I always thought of the kind of stool that you sit on in a bar, not the sample). That name is up there on the list while I try to think of other bad band names. However, if you think about it, there are plenty of names that sound a little weird or dumb at first, but you get used to them after a while.

For example, Dustin Kensrue called his band's name, Thrice, a pretty bad name in the recent documentary, If We Could Only See Us Now. I don't think it's a bad name; I think of that old SNL sketch with Chris Farley as motivational speaker Matt Foley ("I am thrice-divorced and I live in a van down by the river!") when I hear the name. Thrice is a serious band and their music is pretty good. When I'm listening to their music, I'm not thinking of the SNL sketch. The name doesn't sound goofy or silly; yet I can't get the silliness out of the name Arctic Monkeys when I hear their music.

What doesn't help Arctic Monkeys' case is that they are being touted as important as Oasis was back in the '90s and The Strokes were earlier in the decade. That's an insane amount of pressure for a young band. We're talking a band with only one album out after being together for a little more than a year. If they're going to be a big, great and influential for a long time, that kind of stuff is not going to happen instantly. Signs don't look so good in the long-run for a band called Arctic Monkeys.

In parting, I'm only talking about a name here. Names only identify us, but they don't define us. However, tacky names don't really help.

1 comment:

stonedranger said...

true. And the music isn't really anything new either... or that great come to think of it.