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Rock and roll is less about crafting a sophisticated sound and more about making a visceral connection. Fans don’t hear the music — they feel the vibe. Rock’s innate immaturity is a quality that endears itself to adolescents; it is what keeps the audience young and, in turn, the music from sounding polished. No band at the moment exemplifies this better than the Arctic Monkeys, a group of 19- and 20-year-olds who’ve grabbed the attention of England’s rock-crazed population. They’re a cultural phenomenon, their music having converted followers at a messianic clip, their album sales leaving every band that came before them (yes, even the Beatles) lagging behind. Moreover, they are the quintessential iPod band. Word-of-mouth hysteria, driven by MP3 file sharing and bloggers, forced the Arctic Monkeys (the name stems from the British saying “Cold as brass monkeys”) into England’s national spotlight while kicking holes in the industry’s antiquated business model. Instead of waiting for a record deal, they distributed free CDs at their shows and on Myspace, the Web site that’s part music sharing and part social networking. The ensuing Internet buzz (they went “viral”) ignited a bidding war among labels. They signed with Domino, and their debut work, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” is the fastest-selling album in British history. And now the lads from Sheffield have arrived in America. They’re playing tonight at Nightclub 9:30, 815 V St. N.W. Beneath the dizzying record sales, the baby-faced quartet’s look and sound is uncommonly common. This isn’t Nirvana ushering in grunge. During their recent performance on “Saturday Night Live,” which for the most part was uncharacteristically underwhelming, the Arctic Monkeys brandished the shaggy-hair, popped-collar look favored by many teens — it appears they aren’t trying to set a trend as much as they’re riding the current wave. The same can be said for their music. The Arctic Monkeys started out covering songs by the Libertines and the Strokes, and that quality permeates the album. They could be described as a merger of Nirvana’s alternative-punk sound, without the self-loathing, and the Strokes’ catchy bass lines, minus the self-infatuation. Their music is not political or overly self-indulgent or filled with corny ballads. Like a friend of mine once said of a good rock band, they simply bring it. “Whatever People Say” is like much of today’s euro rock-dance popularized by Oasis, Franz Ferdinand, and the Hives. But while the Arctic Monkeys aren’t ushering in a new sound, they might just have the current model’s best offering. The album is refreshingly unpretentious, undeniably melodic, and often brilliant. Drummer Matt Helders provides a strong backbone and flexible beats, but it is front man Alex Turner who takes the group to another level. His lyrics are witty and pithy. Single sentences occasionally stretch over an entire verse, a rare literary quality in music. There’s talk of run-ins with girls and bouncers, late nights and slow days, delivered with tongue-in-cheek snarkiness. The second of the group’s singles to hit No. 1 in England, “When the Sun Goes Down,” is a narrative fused with fun guitar riffs, which also serves to describe much of the album. As the song begins, Turner details, in a thick, slightly off-pitch accent, an unseemly tryst between seedy characters, all while softly building the tempo through three biting guitar riffs before finally unleashing an infectious, foot-stomping melody: And I’ve seen him . . . with girls of the night And he told Roxanne to put on her red light It’s all infected . . . but he’ll be alright Cause he’s a scumbag, don’t you know? I said he’s a scumbag, don’t you know! And off they go, taking anyone within earshot along for the ride. On “Fake Tales of San Francisco,” the group mocks less-talented bands for posing and behaving as though they are above their hometown. The song crests with a kind of call-and-response chorus: He talks of San Francisco, he’s from Hunter’s Bar I don’t quite know the distance But I’m sure that’s far I’m sure that’s pretty far I’d love to tell you all my problems You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham So get off the bandwagon, and put down the handbook So it goes. Rare is it to find an album with every song able to stand on its own. Along with the popular success, many European critics are becoming believers. But, so far, Americans aren’t buying into the hype. The Arctic Monkeys debuted at No. 24 on the Billboard chart last month and have fallen each week. That’s a shame. No matter how the Arctic Monkeys are ultimately received in the United States, their success is a possible harbinger for 21st-century music — with fans determining who gets record deals and major label backing. In the meantime, the popularity wave will be, inevitably, a source of criticism for those seeking to knock the group’s talents. Don’t listen. The Arctic Monkeys’ debut delivers a gut-busting punch and should be taken for what it is — a historic first offering that uses a simple formula, takes few risks, and delivers sublime, bite-size songs.
Nathan Carlile can be reached at [email protected].

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