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Music | Opinion

Jamie Cook: The secret weapon of Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys are one of the 21st century’s most essential bands. No matter what your personal opinion of them might be, you cannot deny their importance in keeping the flame of rock ‘n’ roll alight.

Although in 2014, we laughed and cringed in unison at frontman Alex Turner’s Brit Awards speech where he claimed, “Yeah, that rock’n’roll, it seems like it’s fading away sometimes, but it will never die. And there’s nothing you can do about it”, as the years have worn on, we’ve realised just how true that sentiment was, and how instrumental the four chaps from Sheffield have been.

The band emerged on the back of bands such as The Strokes and The Libertines galvanising the youth, and kicked off a new era for the guitar band, quickly rising to become Britain’s hottest product. Formed in Sheffield in 2002, their 2006 debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not became the fastest-selling debut album in UK chart history, setting the band on their path to becoming the world beaters we all know and love today. 

Their story is a famous one. Off the back of their debut, the band refused to be pigeonholed, and with each new record, they enacted a stylistic change that would keep audiences and critics on their toes whilst managing to imbue their career with a vitality that many of their stadium-filling peers could only dream of having.

Whether it be the stoned desert rock of 2009’s Humbug, the classic rock-hip-hop hybrid AM, or the lounge pop of 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, the band has touched on many different musical modes over their career. Looking ahead, drummer Matt Helders recently revealed that the group’s forthcoming follow-up to Tranquility Base is again going to mark a change: “It is never gonna be like ‘R U Mine?’ and all that stuff again, you know, the heavy riffs and stuff,” Helders said, and you can’t help yourself from being excited about the direction Arctic Monkeys will head in over the next chapter of their career. 

When discussing Arctic Monkeys, the conversation is usually centred around the obvious genius of frontman and lyricist Alex Turner or the dynamism of drummer Matt Helders, which is understandable. Despite this, I’ve always thought that the two most unassuming members of the group, bassist Nick O’Malley and guitarist Jamie Cook, never receive the recognition they deserve. This is largely because of the way they’ve managed to stay out of the limelight and retain some level of anonymity, even though they’re in one of the world’s biggest bands.

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This week, I’ve already covered the brilliance of O’Malley, and how he is the musical glue that holds the whole operation together. However, today it’s time for us to turn to Jamie Cook, who has been vital to the band’s successes over the years. Whilst he has retained the unpretentious essence of his place of birth, Cook has been there since the band formed and has helped to steer the ship at some of its most critical junctures. 

He advocated the stylistic change on the Josh Homme-produced Humbug and encouraged Turner to write the semi-autobiographical rock opera Tranquility Base, clearly demonstrating his importance to the band behind the scenes.

Notably, during the days when the band had risen like a tidal wave and segued in the blink of an eye from the “next big thing” to the “big thing”, Cook was as vocal in interviews as his bandmates, toeing the line between sardonic and churlish oh-so finely. Toting his red Telecaster, he also provided a basis for Turner to deliver his high-end parts on top of, whilst occasionally joining in with backing vocals on cuts such as ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’. 

Cook gradually took more of a back seat in interviews and backing vocals as time went by, and as his pedalboard grew and horizons broadened, arguably, we saw Cook become more vital to the band. He’d always been their resident muso and “indie music fanatic”, and his love of The Smiths, The Strokes, Oasis, and Queens of the Stone Age would be a defining influence on the band’s early sound, but afterwards, you’d also find that whatever music he was listening at that one time also had a critical impact on their direction. 

“I was really listening to a lot of Bowie stuff when we were recording. Just kind of revisiting his work, especially Ziggy Stardust,” said Cook in a 2013 interview with RVA when discussing the music that inspired AM. “I really love it, but when you really examine it, it’s pretty flawless in my opinion. Maybe that did influence me a bit with how we poured ourselves into this record, perfecting each detail.”

Interestingly, some segments of the Arctic Monkeys fanbase seem to give Jamie Cook an unfair amount of stick. On the band’s subreddit, for example, there were a number of responses to the post ‘Jamie Cook hate’ which showed just how underappreciated he is. Some users clung on to a handful of instances at live shows where Cook has given sloppy performances, but they’re skewed in their perception. The band has played hundreds if not thousands of shows, and each member has been guilty of not being at their best from time to time. It’s only natural given the volume of gigs. 

In actuality, Cook has an ear for a simple but effective riff, and always serves the song appropriately. Of course, he’s not the most eye-catching guitarist, but there’s also a reason that Arctic Monkeys’ riffs are some of the best known in existence, and why the band has such a universal appeal. Together, he and Turner understand the potency of not messing around on a guitar, and they complement each other extremely well. If you were to take Cook out of the band, it would be a completely different landscape. 

Whilst I think I’ve made my point, to get the real measure of the man behind the music, we need to revisit an interview the band gave with the Guardian in 2013. Asked about the nature of fame, Cook revealed his thoughts and tacitly disclosed how he has been able to influence everything the band does, via his humble, realistic nature. 

“I try not to think about fame,” Cook said. “It messes with your head a bit.”

He was then asked if he ever feels unsettled by the scale of the band’s success. “Yeah,” Cook expressed. “There are things that really hit you now and then. We did a festival in Mexico and we were at the airport and it was like Beatlemania. Strange stuff like that does freak me out [because] I’d never do that. I love music and bands but I can’t understand going to the airport to see them.”

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