In reality he's a twenty year old scruffy boy from Sheffield, but bathed in the purple and blue lights of the Theatre du Moulin, before a thousand adoring fans, Alex Turner looks about twelve. As the central figure of British band of the moment Arctic Monkeys, Alex has achieved more than his fair share of success. And yet there he stands, voice breaking, 'We're Arctic Monkeys', and, staring at the ground like a nervous suitors he mumble 'I'm Alex'. In purely economic terms, Britain has not seen a band like this since Oasis, but could the contrast in style be any greater?
The first track of 1994 masterpiece Definitely Maybe declared 'Tonight, I'm a Rock and Roll Star', in Liam's unmistakable manc drawl. The video to the Monkey's breakthrough single I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor began with Alex Turner intoning 'Don't believe the hype', and it clearly wasn't the first time he'd said it. There are as many opinions of what the true rock and roll ethos is as there are emaciated drug-riddled NME journalists. But can today's brand of self-effacing, chip on the shoulder mumbling be it?
When Liam and Noel fought on stage, repeatedly quit the band, abused the press and took mountains of cocaine, their record sales were never higher.
Because it's not just Arctic Monkeys who offend the ideal; from Keane's total lack of personality, through Franz Ferdinand's artsy modesty to the 'I can't believe we're here' Kaiser Chiefs, it seems the 'modern way' is to play down your greatness. Though Arctic Monkeys are perhaps the most extreme example, mixing their modesty with a healthy dose of whining bitterness towards anyone who doesn't know them from college, it seems as if there are none of the old school left.
In fact there is one, Pete Doherty, and look where it's got him. When Liam and Noel fought on stage, repeatedly quit the band, abused the press and took mountains of cocaine, their record sales were never higher. When The Stone Roses did it, they created a legend. Pete Doherty's drug habit and outrageous antics have got him thrown out of his band and repeatedly dragged through the courts. He now faces ever decreasing sales, a spell in gaol, and the final ignominy of being dropped by his record label.
Is this is a sign of greater professionalism in the music industry? Do our idols now spend every waking hour, pencil behind the ear, tweaking the sound to produce the finest fan experience? Should we not be pleased that instead of returning our dedication with profligacy and scorn they have begun to recognise how lucky they are to have us?
We are in the generation of Jade Goody, of celebrated mediocrity.
No, in a word. There have always been those artists who were dedicated to their music, and those who were not. Kaiser Chiefs are no more committed than Hendrix, or even Weller. It is more a reflection of the manner in which we, the audience, approach them.
We are in the generation of Jade Goody, of celebrated mediocrity. The best loved icons of popular culture of the last five years are the Chantelles, the plucky incompetents. We love their honesty, their unaffected modesty. In the age of reality TV, they are the ultimate reality people. Though they may be as false as the next TV star, we love their ‘normalness’ and we reward it.
Record companies have seen this, and adapted to suit. The music is about going out on a Friday night, and falling in love with the girl in the chip shop; the image is modest, and normal to the point of blandness. Playing the man in the street thrust into the spotlight, they are studiously trained to avoid the cameras, and shy away from the limelight. Like the developing artsy pretension of the seventies, or the brash escapism of the mid-nineties, this new style of rock and roll attitude is carefully created. Behind the scenes they still believe the hype, they still trash hotel rooms and shag endless groupies, they’re just careful who they tell about it.
P.S. That said, I note that Andy Nicholson is to miss Arctic Monkeys current tour of America, because he's a bit tired.