Rare is the band that tops its much-acclaimed debut album with an even better sophomore disc. But such has happened with
, the young (all just 21) darlings of the post-punk scene out of Sheffield, England, who are coming to town next week on the crest of their massively well-received "Favourite Worst Nightmare" album.
No. 1 in Britain now and a No. 7 debut in the United States, the disc offers word play that's darker and snider, more comically perverse and surreal. Its internal rhyming is evocative of rap.
The music rocks harder but just as melodically as its predecessor set ("Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not"), with flourishes of pumping funk, ska and psychedelia.
At least part of the credit for the harder-charging direction should go to Nick O'Malley, the bassist who signed on as a temporary replacement last May for the road-weary Andy Nicholson, on the eve of the group's last U.S. assault.
Even though Nick broke his right hand a week later in post-pub-visit shenanigans with some mates, he still managed to carry on, pass the audition and become a permanent member of the group.
Surely it doesn't hurt that he's the most jocular Monkey, more willing to chat it up with journalists than, say, the group's famously reclusive frontman, Alex Turner. We got a taste of that last week, catching up with O'Malley just after the Arctic Monkeys stoked the crowd at the Coachella festival.
Q: So how did the group avoid the issues of the sophomore slump?
A: We didn't put that much pressure on ourselves. There were no deadlines, we weren't in any kind of rush. It helps that our label [Domino] is easygoing, not like a major where they make all the decisions for you.
We actually wound up with 20 finished songs, quite the opposite of the usual writer's block, then had to narrow that down to the 12 on the album. There were some really good ones - like "I Wish You Would Have Smiled in the Bakery" - that will wind up getting used as B-sides for singles.
Q: How would you value your own input?
A: Obviously, I wasn't with them on the first album, but my feeling is that this one was a lot more of a group effort. We weren't going to settle for the same old boring rhythms. We tried to make it a lot more exciting.
It's bigger, faster, more intense and complex. The only bad part is that the new material is much more draining to play live. We've really got to keep our heads down and concentrate.
Q: What drove your predecessor to quit? And did you have issues filling in - either from other band members, or fans who missed Andy, or with that, um, unfortunate hand problem?
A: Andy got a bit homesick, which then rubbed off on other people. This touring thing is tough, and it's not for everyone. So it was a good thing for the rest that he decided to stay home and work on his music there.
I've actually been friends with everyone in the band all my life. We went to school together. So the transition wasn't difficult. I'm sure there are people out there, band fans who weren't happy about me replacing him, but if you start worrying too much about that it could drive you insane.
As for the injury, it was luckily my right hand that got broken, and I play the bass with a pick, not my fingers. So even though I was wearing a metal splint thing and it got in the way a bit, I could still grip the pick and make do.
Even if I was going to play s--- for a few weeks, there was no way I was going to be left behind.
Q: What's your personal "favorite worst nightmare," and what's the band's?
A: I keep having this recurring nightmare where Bruce Willis is my dad. People are trying to kill him, and I'm his security guy, trying to keep him safe. I watched "Die Hard" a lot, at a really impressionable age.
The band's worst nightmare is more real. We're playing Glastonbury [Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, the most famous and enduring of English rock festivals] this June, and
we're all worried that something will go terribly wrong and we'll have to leave the country. There was a bad incident there a few years ago, with the crowd crushing against the stage and people getting trampled.
Q: Rock 'n' roll periodically goes through slumps and revivals. Now you guys are being championed as the new great hope. How do you view your role as keepers of the faith?
A: We don't play the game the way other people do to get exposure. We don't go on every poppy TV show. We refuse a lot of things. We're not getting big endorsements - you won't see adverts for us on taxis. And even when you move up to bigger halls, you try and keep things in balance. We're aiming to keep it fun and real. *