The sophomore slump. Second-year blues. The “difficult” second album. None of these phrases are in Alex Turner’s vocabulary.
As frontman for the Arctic Monkeys, one of Britain’s most successful and important bands of the decade, Turner is unfazed by the pitfalls of following up a zeitgeist-shaping debut.
“Was it a difficult album to record? No,” Turner says from Milan, in the midst of a promotional tour, “because ever since we finished the first album (in September 2005), we’ve been writing songs for this one. So it wasn’t like a rush at the last minute.”
Nonetheless, things have changed in Monkeyworld. Ahead of the release of their debut set, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” fans of the band gleefully traded MP3s of album tracks, seemingly with the tacit approval of the band.
In contrast, to have an advance listen to the follow-up — “Favorite Worst Nightmare,” due April 23 in Europe, and the following day in North America — you must be a member of the media and travel to the south London headquarters of the band’s Domino Records label.
“Whatever People Say I Am” shattered U.K. first-week sales records for a debut en route to selling more than 1 million units — with a further 301,000 copies sold in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
New bass player Nick O’Malley has entered the fray, complementing Turner, guitarist Jamie Cook and drummer Matt Helders. And where the band once shunned media interviews, Turner and company are noticeably coming out of their shells.
“It was us that wanted to stay away from the press last time,” Turner says. “We just wanted to get on with it, and we were a bit more bratty then.”
Domino head Laurence Bell says the band still takes on only a tenth of the promotion most other bands do, but adds, “They’re a lot happier to speak to the media now. The lights were shining on them very brightly last time around. They’ve been around the world now, and they’ve seen how it works.”
However, the Monkeys remain resistant to some aspects of the music industry machine. In February, they upset organizers of the BRIT Awards by failing to attend the ceremony, despite winning two trophies.
“We got a bit of criticism,” Turner says. “But we would have had that if we’d gone. It would have been ‘Oh, you’ve changed your tune.’ ”
Kris Gillespie, Domino label director of A&R for North America, says the group’s “conscious avoidance of overexposure” on the last campaign has actually worked to its advantage. “The general public were left with an appetite for the band that we’re going to tap into very quickly,” he says, dubbing the album “a more American-friendly record.”
Radio support for lead track “Brianstorm” has been solid in Britain prior to its April 16 release to retail. It will receive only a soft launch in the United States before another track, “This House Is a Circus,” is pushed to modern rock radio in May.
U.S. tour dates begin April 27 at the Coachella Festival in southern California, but, in the meantime, the band has been playing small, unannounced shows in cities across Europe in an attempt to replicate the underground buzz that made the debut album such an event.