Artist: Arctic Monkeys
Genre: Indie Rock
Great tracks: Are U Mine?, Arabella
Dud tracks: I Wanna Be Yours
Rating: 4 out of 5 frosty primates
Arctic Monkeys’ fifth album shows these lairy Sheffield lads continue to find new ways to stay relevant in an age of shortened attention spans.
Simple teenage whimsy may have inflicted them with one hell of a daft band name, but that small detail hasn’t slowed the Arctic Monkeys inexorable march to megastardom.
The four-piece from the grimy streets of Sheffield burst onto the fickle British indie scene in 2006 with a debut LP that broke all number of sales records. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not brought to the table the biting lyricism of Morrissey without the wank-factor of… Morrissey.
Who were these little punks, we asked? As English as soggy chips and as bracing as a Melbourne breeze, they played their way from MySpace kings to NME flavours-of-the-month, and went on to win the coveted Mercury Prize.
Since then, the snotty brats of yore have morphed into slicked-back-hair, LA-based indie rock royalty fooling around in desert studios with big-time buddies like Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme.
Naturally, the sound has changed. The small-town observations of dingy night spots — who can forget frontman Alex Turner’s spiffy turn of phrase one early single Fake Tales of San Francisco about “weekend rockstars in the toilet practising their lines”? — have given way to spacier sounds, bolder licks and vocals that lose their freneticism, but not their bite.
Each of the band’s subsequent albums has steadily moved in this direction, from the underrated sophomore Favourite Worst Nightmare to the over-zealous, forced-feeling differentiation of Humbug and the return-to-form, bittersweet poignancy of 2012’s Suck it and See.
On this, their fifth album, the ‘Monkeys return to early producer James Ford, but beyond Turner’s distinctive accent, things are nigh-on unrecognisable from those heady early cuts.
Here we have a mixture of the heavy — lead single R U Mine? which, aside from its infuriating spelling, delivers quite a ball-punch; lyrical dynamite — Arabella sees Turner singing about “Barbarella silver swimsuits” and “taking dips in my daydreams”; and bittersweet tales of decadence tinged with sadness and futility, as on the oddly-named No. 1 Party Anthem.
Not every punch lands: final track I Wanna Be Yours kicks off with the lines “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, breathing in your dust, I wanna be your Ford Cortina, I’ll never Rust”. Aside from libeling a classic Blue Oval sedan, this ain’t Turner’s best work. But suck it up, dear listener.
What ultimately grabs you about AM is the length of time it takes to really come around to some of the tracks. It’s a grower not a shower. The ELO-eque stomp and pomp of Snap Out Of It comes immediately to mind, marking bold new territory for the band.
Come to think of it, I might have been a touch harsh on the band’s name earlier. There’s a strange parallel between an Arctic Monkey and this British collective, when you dwell on it. See, a primate might not habitually make a home in frozen northern wastelands, but that thick coat and wily nature might just make it more at-home than you’d think in such unfamiliar territory.
Likewise, since these unlikely chaps have broken the shackles of the too-cool-for-school UK music press and found crossover success, they’ve been forced to acquaint themselves with the equally unfamiliar territory of stadiums the world over.
Turns out they have the chops, and as AM proves, no shortage of new ideas to stay right at home. Fish out of water, or furry mammals buried in snow.
Am I stretching? Probably. The point stands: this album is ace. Go get it.