Britain's finest rock'n'roll sophisticates took on one of last year's finest U.K. pop sensations earlier today in BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge. That's right, Arctic Monkeys covered Katy B's sinuously bass-dropping "Katy on a Mission" (rip by the NJ Underground, via Some Kind of Awesome).
On last year's Suck It and See, Alex Turner and the boys gave the impression they had outgrown the U.K. and U.S. charts alike: They'd moved on from both their early youthful exuberance and their later sludgy Josh Homme phase to revel in rich, vibrant lyricism and classicist fuzz-guitar tunefulness. It was like they didn't care whether the masses "got it" or not. A rain-soaked Lollapalooza crowd ate it up anyway.
As for Kathleen Brien, her On a Mission (one of SPIN's 20 Best Pop Albums of 2011) could hardly have been more deeply invested in current trends. Groomed to be a star at the same Brit School as Amy Winehouse and Adele, Katy B sings like someone who'd rather be Rihanna than Dusty Springfield. And she surrounds her imperious club hooks with the subwoofer-wobbling electronic strains of dubstep, the genre that overtook pop music like no other last year — even finally conquering the States, thanks to everyone from Britney Spears to Skrillex.
Arctic Monkeys' cover is revealing for both sides. A restrained Merseybeat-meets-Morricone shuffler, with (as Stereogum points out) a guitar lick nicked from Johnny Kid & the Pirates' "Shakin' All Over," the Monkeys' "Katy on a Mission" take shows it's not necessarily Turner's songwriting that's oblique or retro — their style of arrangements could make almost anything sound like an elusive garage-rock nugget. We haven't met any Katy B haters yet, but the new version also underscores that her best tracks work not only by co-opting current trends, but also by putting those womp-womps and island-robot coos over great, old-fashioned songcraft. Whatever you say they are, that's what Arctic Monkeys and Katy B aren't.