Since 2005 they have become Yorkshire’s greatest export next to gravy. Evolving from acned, trackie bottomed teenagers, into grungy, humbug-sucking brooders, and now into the slicked back hype machine that is AM. The Arctic Monkeys are now visually and orally unrecognisable from their explosive debut. The question on everyone’s lips is whether or not their perpetually Americanised sound can even match, let alone surpass their past quality?
Track 1, ‘Do I Wanna Know’ speaks for itself. That swaggering riff opened Glastonbury and it serves the same purpose here. Asserting a dominance and tone unheard before, yet highly recognisable as the haloed love child of all their previous records; although Humbug is echoed most strongly. Drummer Matt Helder’s newly acquired falsetto pipes are used perhaps a little excessively, but he does add a heightened dimension to the tracks, especially ‘One For The Road’ and 2012 single ‘R U Mine’.
‘Arbarella’ however, is the point at which, if you ask me, they should have put up more of a fight when Josh Homme invited them to become a Queens of the Stone Age tribute act. The chorus is just another generic power chord progression we’ve heard a hundred times; even the solo’s nicked. At times ‘AM’ lacks creativity and musicianship of Humbug, left only with an distorted attempt to recapture that sinister, reverbed guitar. Unfortunately displayed only too well on ‘I Want It All’.
“C’mon, C’mon, C’mon, the No. 1 Party Anthem”, croons Turner over soft piano driven track which could be taken as an ironic attack on One Direction. It’s an intriguing ballad, on the pull in yet another shitty club, “collar popped like Cantona.”Contrasting sublimely with the noise of the first five tracks, it is sadly followed by the worse song the Arctic Monkeys have ever made. ‘Mad Sounds’ would be more at home on a Dire Straits record, and a poor one at that. Similarly, if you’re a Miles Kane fan you will LOVE ‘Snap Out of It’. For the rest of us who know he’s wank, you might as well delete it from the album.
When Alex Turner said this record would be more “Hip-Hop”, the popping feel of concisely titled, ‘Why Do You Only Call Me When You’re High’, is exactly what he meant. Having broken the Top 10 singles for the first time in a while, it is the elated outro, following a formula set by 2007’s ‘Do Me a Favour, is the hook needed to revitalise the album, which at this point is teetering worse than the end of the Italian Job.
The piercing funk lick on ‘Knee Socks’ pushes the bus back on track – it’s original, and perfectly matched to Helder’s chorus lines. Some very clever vocal production, featuring Josh Homme and supposedly Haim, singing about a Lacoste jacket, makes this a standout record.
An Arctic Monkeys record is only ever as good as as its finale. ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ is the lyrically perfect track that ‘AM’ needed to ensure that it will be held up a successful album. . “Let me be your leccy meter, and I’ll never run out,” is easily the most beautifully northern lyric in all history. It is however, only Turner’s distinctive Rotherham drawl that makes this a Monkeys’ tune. It is a steady heartfelt number that envelops the record, tying both ends together in the theme of unrequited love.
It’s not often you hear John Lennon and Eminem mentioned in the same breath, but the smorgasbord of sounds explored in Arctic Monkeys’ fifth album, AM, makes it easily comparable to both.
Unfortunately, Matt Helders’ percussionary presence has diminished significantly, although his vocals are more adventurous and pervading than ever, which is appeasing. The sinister ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, which revives some of Humbug’s more caliginous aspects, finely represents this shift.
With statements like “I’m a puppet on a string,” ‘R U Mine?’ establishes one of the record’s underlying themes – Alex Turner’s apparent servitude to his sexual counterparts. The QOTSA groove shows the boys haven’t shaken off Josh Homme’s impact from their time in the desert -not that I’m complaining!
A number of tracks exhibit the influence of hip-hop that the band so often speak of. For instance, it’s not difficult to imagine a young Eminem depicting his life’s drudgery atop the bassline of ‘One for the Road’.
‘Arabella’ is another which would make a fine backing track on a Dr. Dre-produced mixtape. Its verses are written in subtle alliterative measures: only helping to cement Turner’s status as one of modern music’s greatest poets. (Although let’s be honest, the competition isn’t exactly fierce these days.)
An emotional centre is characteristic of every Arctic Monkeys record and ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ certainly fits the bill. As soothing as a reflective John Lennon, this could easily have come from Al’s Submarine EP. Al himself couldn’t find the words to describe such a wondrous track. Coupled with this is ‘Mad Sounds’, another mellow track which, with its tedious ‘oo lalala’, leaves us longing for more action.
More action, however, is just what we get with ‘Fireside’, which sounds like a Humbug B-side. The song becomes progressively 80s-sounding as Turner nostalgically meditates on a bygone relationship.
After ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’, Turner won’t be the only nostalgic one. Here, the effects intoxication has on our standards of conduct are delineated. (Who could’ve guessed?) Although melodically it’s closer to hip-hop, the aforementioned theme echoes the lyrical content of the Ritz to the Rubble’.
The ‘505’ of the record is a version of punk poet John Cooper Clarke’s ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, which Turner first encountered in his GCSEs, in the psychedelic style of Miles Kane. A new chorus has been incorporated by Al, making for a refreshing finish.
AM is Arctic Monkey’s most diverse album yet, featuring various elements, new and old. However, with the exception of ‘Pretty Visitors’ from Humbug, the explosive drumming that helped kickstart their success has been missing since Favourite Worst Nightmare. Perhaps their recent sounds have prohibited this. (Or those tight leathers Helders now wears are restricting his movement!) Make no mistake, this isn’t an infantile calls for the band to return to their Dancefloor days. It’s simply a severe case of ‘Agile Beast’ withdrawal.