Just two months after their conquering of Glastonbury festival, Arctic Monkeys release an album that will set them aside from the rest and surely cement their position as the biggest band in the world.
Back in 2006 when Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not propelled them into the limelight and in turn became the fastest UK selling album of all time, there were a number of British bands, including Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand, who joined Arctic Monkeys in a post-punk scene, taking advantage of the new file-sharing technology and communities that the internet made possible.
Since then it’s fair to say there hasn’t been a huge amount of progression from most of those bands, and whilst they’ve been successful in the following years they’ve not pushed the boundaries of their exciting debuts. This is where Arctic Monkeys stand out, head and shoulders above the rest, with the willingness and talent to prevent any tiresome formula from being created.
Whatever People Say is the sound of lads from Sheffield singing about life up north, but third album Humbug saw them, via Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, adopt a hard rock swagger to their sound, and though the band’s current sound has its roots firmly laid in that record, it was far from honed.
Two albums later and we have AM, probably the most eagerly anticipated album of 2013, and in true style it simply doesn’t disappoint.
The three songs released as singles prior to the album’s launch fervently whetted the public’s audience, and two of them, ‘Do I Wanna Know’ and ‘R U Mine?’ kick AM off in the most ballsiest full on way possible, laying down stoner riffs and thunderous drumming, Homme’s influence barnstormingly prevalent throughout.
Alex Turner has always been a sucker for romance in his lyrics, and whilst his LA party lifestyle will have undoubtedly improved his sex life he’s still deep down that young shy lad, crooning “Cause there’s this tune I found that makes me think of you somehow and I play it on repeat, until I fall asleep, spilling drinks on my settee”. It’s classic British romantic wordplay, conjuring images of him wistfully sat there on an old battered settee (will Americans even know what one is? I hope not anyway) in a Rotherham flat drinking cans of cheap lager.
You may or not recall the band and label Domino claiming that there’s a certain hip-hop feel to AM, but surely by now we’re too savvy to fall for such tricks? Anyone else remember The Big Pink making the same promise but then simply releasing an almost identical album as their first? Well the Sheffield band have truly laid down certain aspects of the hip-hop genre, and it’s no more noticeable than in and ‘Arabella’ and ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ which both blaze with Dre beats and Alex’s treated vocals. On the face of it this may sound a bit naff and tacky, though the band’s collective musicianship and distinct awareness of what works means they pull it off. They’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s refreshing to see the band wanting to force themselves in different directions.
For all the slicked back swagger the band, and in particular Turner, possess, they still appreciate the value of British self-deprecation, after all no one likes a show-off now, do they? And ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ is testament to this, showing Turner as a lustful waster futilely attempting to get through to a girl who has no other intention but to knock him back.
‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ is far from being what its name suggests, a reflective and mellow Pulp-like track which thrusts prominence in the direction of Alex’s vocals and lyrics. ‘It’s not like I’m falling in love I just want you to do me no good, and you look like you could’, croons the frontman as the track slowly builds to its conclusion.
‘Mad Sounds’ is basically Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ with organs. ‘Love buckles under the strain of those wild nights’, reflects Alex doing his best Lou Reed impression. There’s a even a healthy dosing of ‘ooh la las’, but despite this it’s far from being a shameless rip-off of the most ripped off band in musical history.
The closing track of any Arctic Monkeys album is always very important, and with the likes of ‘A Certain Romance’ and ‘505’ coming before it’s no surprise to see a song like ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ wrap up proceedings. Originally a John Cooper Clarke poem, it’s a gem of a song, choc-a-bloc with northern witticisms such as ‘I wanna be your vacuum cleaner breathing in your dust, I wanna be your Ford Cortina, I will never rust’. They may be worldwide superstars but they sure as hell still respect their roots, and that can only be applauded.
AM is an album of real progression, showing signs of maturity in both the music and the all-important Turner vocals. It once again moves the band in a different direction and whilst that might not pander to the needs of everyone it is bona fide proof that they feel that standing in one place for too long causes stagnation, yet at the same time they don’t stray away from what made and makes them so truly irresistible, to Brits and Americans alike, their distinct sense of being Northern.
After five albums you strangely get the feeling that Arctic Monkeys are only really getting started, they’re ready to conquer and by heck do they know how they’re going to do it.