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81. Arctic Monkeys – Mardy Bum

04/10/2009

81

To be accused of plagiarism, on the grounds that it’s the only conceivable way you could’ve written a song, must nearly be a compliment. Whether Alex Turner took it that way in 2006, when it was suggested he’d had “help” writing this, isn’t known, but the cynicism is at least slightly understandable. After all, surely no teenager can have experienced the years of stale relationship despair that is so brilliantly observed on Mardy Bum, which is what makes the turn of phrase so astonishing. Virtually every lyric here is a winner: “that silent-disappointment face” is instantlycomically familiar, likewise the whole “you say I don’t care, of course I do, I clearly do!” interchange. And then the pay-off line, “you’re all argumentative and you’ve got the face on” is a pure exercise in generating wistful smiles ­– the imagery could’ve come straight from a Mike Leigh movie, but to articulate it so concisely takes real skill. What doesn’t take any skill is the Arctic’s one-dimensional, unsubtle music, but that can be forgiven when it’s a vehicle for such sharp wit. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe for a second that Mardy Bum is autobiographical, despite the first-person point of view. But given Turner’s now-proven eye for social observation it would be churlish to accuse the lyrics of being nicked – even though it sits head and shoulders above the rest of the band’s cannon.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. 05/10/2009 10:01 am

    I absolutely love the Arctic Monkeys but never understood the wide fascination with this track (bar the amusing title and the shared male-bonding experience). Lyrically it’s below most of their work and I suspect musically it’s a bit jaunty for mine. It always reminds me of Pulp’s Bar Italia, though, which is nice.

    And you’ve sorted my morning listening.

    -turns AM back catalogue up loud-

    -continues to be flabbergasted and bewildered by ‘one-dimensional, unsubtle’ music comment-

  2. 05/10/2009 10:10 am

    If the song isn’t autobiographical, then the emotion that Alex manages to put into this song is all the more impressive – I love the way he turns into an excitable giggly teeenager when he sings “remember cuddles in the kitchen, yeah, to get things off the ground”.

  3. Sam permalink*
    05/10/2009 10:32 am

    @socialpostures: The thing that I reckon this lyric has over other Arctics songs is a depth of emotion which is surprising for an 18-year-old. After all, most teenagers have chatted someone up on the dancefloor of a club, and some have probably witnessed a dirty old man propositioning a hooker, making songs like I Bet You Look Good… and Scummy Man reasonably understandable. With Mardy Bum there not just witty observation – there’s a real audible frustration there as well!

    @Ben: you’re right – it is a cracking bit of acting from Turner, although I shouldn’t think he had much trouble “turning” into a excitable giggly teenager, as when he wrote this, he pretty much was one!

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