Saturday, October 26

My First El Clasico

My phone has run out of 3G data. Some old busker just played 'My Way' on his violin at the train station and it won't leave my ears. And I'm about to enter Camp Nou for El Clasico - Barcelona v Real Madrid - agitated to hell.

My football team - whom I pretty much care about more than anything in the world - are seemingly about to throw away any remote chance of retaining their title in fucking October. October!

We're 2-1 down to Stoke at home (home!) with 13 minutes to go, last I heard. I was on the train listening to 5 Live on iPlayer when suddenly, amid the eager droll of countless Barca fans packing the carriage, the ramble of Mark Lawrenson just stopped.

Towards the stadium, I walk. I'm upset, concerned about United. The horridly underdeveloped streets that ruin the essence of Camp Nou, I've seen a few times before. I'm sweating in my tight jeans which hold my €100 ticket. 'Please, reds; not again.'

I'm rushing up towards my seat with minutes till kick-off, trying to work out O2's weird Euro data rules and how to add more MB. I make kick-off by seconds - Ronaldo, Messi, Bale are before me but I don't care. I need to know what happened.

I can still hear 'My Way' - Ferguson's song. I've added more data. I can't check yet, too scared. I decide to catch my breath from the never-ending steps I just sprinted up. I'm worried the Barca obsessive next to me will spot Ronaldo on my iPhone background, so I conceal it.

The Barca fans going crazy at only a yellow against them - this atmosphere reminds me of Utd v Liverpool or City, when you don't even talk to the regular guys next to you out of pure anxiety at the level of the game.

Right. Time to check. God, this feels like I'm opening my A-level results. I'm fearing the worst; this new Utd is a new Utd. Bang. 3-2. YES... I'll never forget my first El Clasico. United win a late comeback. All is right in the world again.

Tuesday, October 1

Album Of Last Month

Arctic Monkeys 'AM' (Domino)

Friday night, Pyramid Stage, Glastonbury 2013. Alex Turner is suited like he means business with Bugsy Malone and talking through an Americanised Sheffield twang only Joss Stone would pretend to understand. It was strange - not because of Turner's newfound engagement with his inner Elvis - but because for the first time in a long time, Arctic Monkeys seemed... happy. It was like they'd immediately become at peace with their stature and weren't ashamed to loosen up.
2011's gratifying Suck It and See might have something to do with their pep, having seen the Monkeys return to form after a bout of California-itis - a sound they grew into so much, Suck It was their best record since that debut and maybe why they seem to be making a bigger fuss of themselves this time around. Or perhaps all the Glasto bravado, as well as Turner content to act a little Roger Sterling in their latest video, is because they're confident they've something extra special with the virtually self-titled AM (ripped from The Velvet Underground's outtakes VU).
The hip-hop beat Turner teased of before is instantly obvious amid the droll of 'Do I Wanna Know?' Jamie Cook's creepy "dill-nill-nill" guitar line will disturb you more than The Joker does Ben Affleck, and that's only rivalled by Turner lost and haunted by love/infatuation ("I'm constantly on the cusp of trying to kiss you, I don't know if you feel the same"). It's eerie, sexy and one bitchingly powerful way to begin. The frontman's conflicts with the opposite sex persist in 'R U Mine?' First released 18 months ago, it now works on here as the template for AM; you can tell how the rest emerged from the raw energy it offers.
Arctic Monkeys have never been famed for rocking out but it is striking how sedated the album feels. The nearest we get to a Teddy Picker are 'Arabella' and 'I Want It All'; even both of those sound like they've been doped by the LA sun. And the best part of 'Arabella' is not Cook plus drummer Matt Helders in a 10-second power duet, but when Turner lets fly of the cheetah coat-wearing, organic cig-smoking seductress he's on about atop a spine of sweet falsetto vocals - these which become typical of AM are the Arctics doing rock 'n' roll the old-fashioned way, kicking back without abusing the amp.
'No. 1 Party Anthem', which thankfully sounds nothing like a David Guetta beach rave, has a Lennon-type grandeur to it not miles from Humbug's 'Cornerstone', with the singer again in a state of obsession ("I'm not in love, I just want you to do me no good, and you look like you could"). The bluesy doo-wop returns in 'Fireside', a stripped-down, crisp tune and the most different the Arctics get; it's refreshing. 'Snap Out of It' isn't one that features Josh Homme but it does have a fun, QOTSA-like ooze. The melodies are tighter than ever and it's new, hypnotic territory for them - this band is growing up and only getting better.
Turner clearly had a lot on his mind after splitting from his famous girlfriend in 2011, but although a broken heart is always more interesting than a stable one, the constant pining and courtship here (not to say it's all personal) can become wearisome. What helps lighten it is his never-ending repartee of wisdom, this time assisted by an often seductive spirit: "I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, breathe in your dust" ('I Wanna Be Yours'); "Have you no idea that you're in deep? I've dreamt about you nearly every night this week" ('Do I Wanna Know?'); "You and me could have been a team, each had a half of a king and queen seat" ('Knee Socks').
And it wouldn't be a Monkeys LP without a lullaby of some kind, 'Mad Sounds' acting as a tribute to the powers of music and an endearing interval midway through... This is their most mature album, yet also their most gutsy; the high two-way choruses which make it so distinct would never have happened a few records ago. There's little bounce but the songs feel super sturdy, armed with Turner and his diverting reflections. AM, not that there was much doubt, simply reaffirms Arctic Monkeys as the most exciting band around.