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The Arctic Monkeys are a thriving species

Many of their contemporaries have failed, but these Brits seem fit to survive.

September 27, 2007|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

The Arctic Monkeys seem to be doing it right. That's not always the most exciting way to do it, but after all the colorful flameouts produced by England in recent years, a bit of old-fashioned, no-nonsense focus on the basics might be in order.

Neither feuds nor scandals, flirtations with musical trends nor displays of attitude have so far disrupted the Monkeys' world, which is marked instead by a rigorous establishing of a foundation that might someday anchor one of the most substantial bodies of work in British rock.

That approach has yielded their strikingly ambitious and heartfelt debut album, "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not," and this year's less accessible but emotionally complex follow-up, "Favourite Worst Nightmare." And while that sounds like the story of countless virtuous cult bands, these four lads from Sheffield have managed to strike a broader nerve, becoming instant stars in England and a slower but still rising presence in the U.S.

At the Hollywood Palladium on Tuesday, they showed one reason for that stature: They've bulked up into an imposing live band in the 18 months since their first U.S. show.

Even more than their impressive set at Coachella in April, the 90-minute concert displayed a fiercely focused attack. The Monkeys are an old-school guitar band, forging their flurries from the tightly interlocked patterns of singer Alex Turner's rhythm guitar and Jamie Cook's lead, which are pounded into dynamic shape by bassist Nick O'Malley and drummer Matt Helders.

It formed a terse, bracingly precise setting for Turner's sharp, steely voice, which still has a youthful plaintiveness as well as the wary skepticism that colors the newer material. He's fully engaged with every narrative, while his phrasing turns his wordy, potentially mouth-clogging lines into something close to rock poetry.

The Arctic Monkeys' hurdles remain the challenges of adding some personality to this experience without compromising it and tapping the drama in their music more effectively. To do that, they have to be more willing to vary their dynamics and trust the music's emotion, as they did briefly toward the end when Turner sang the free-tempo opening of "When the Sun Goes Down" alone, with his guitar chords loosely following his voice.

Suddenly freed from the Monkeys' taut musical mazes, he found an ache and a vulnerability, and the crowd's immediate response to this revelation was a reminder that in this relationship, it's the heart that matters most.

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