Arctic Monkeys
Humbug


3.0
good

Review

by Nick Butler EMERITUS
August 20th, 2009 | 193 replies


Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Josh Homme takes Turner and company to the Gadda Da Vida.

It's pretty much impossible to think of Humbug without referring back to Josh Homme's role as producer - his grubby fingerprints are all over this album, which is shot through with a psychedelic heaviness unseen before on an Arctic Monkeys album. This is no normal producer/artist relationship - this is a George Martin-Beatles democracy of ideas, a set-up where Homme assumes the role of Brian Eno and Alex Turner is David Byrne, or David Bowie, or Bono.

Now that SOUNDS like a good thing, but when it comes to things they haven't heard, most music fans are prone to assuming the best and not having any real perspective. After hearing the phrase 'Queens of the Stone Age meets Arctic Monkeys', they will automatically imagine Songs for the Deaf blended with Whatever People Say I Am... - it's what we do. But this is not the Josh Homme of 2002 and this is not the Arctic Monkeys of 2005. Both have been in decline since, Homme in particular - it's been five years since he put his name to anything good. Meanwhile, the Arctics showed on Favourite Worst Nightmare and Who the *** Are Arctic Monkeys? that while their good ideas remained as good as the ones on their debut, their bad ideas had been getting worse.

So in reality, it's not too surprising that Humbug is the weakest Arctic Monkeys album yet. What is surprising, though, is where the strengths and weaknesses of this album lie. You'd expect the songs to impress and the sound to disappoint, and yet, the exact opposite is true.

However regularly Homme has disappointed since Songs for the Deaf made him a star, and whatever stories have come out about his personal life, you simply can't fault what he does here - the sound is basically perfect. The Monkeys themselves may have been pictured wearing Black Sabbath t-shirts and talking excitedly about discovering heavy metal, but the primary influences here come not from Iommi and company, but instead from the heavy end of late '60s psychedelia - Iron Butterfly in particular, but traces of Cream and Blue Cheer are here too. How much of that influence comes from the Monkeys themselves and how much comes from Homme is up for debate, but regardless, as a way of moving the band's sound forward and away from the rapidly-declining indie scene that spawned them, it's bold and it's a huge success. It feels natural too, which is possibly the album's greatest strength - this is a world apart from their first two albums, but at times it just feels like they were meant to get to this point.

Sadly, that just makes the songwriting doubly disappointing.

Pointing out Alex Turner's lyrics as the reason people got interested in his band in the first place is hardly a great revelation, but that doesn't make it any less true. Whipsmart one-liners are his stock in trade and he's better at them than just about any of his contemporaries - lines like 'There's only music so that there's new ringtones' are memorable after just one listen. And yet, after the first listen to Humbug, I found myself struggling to remember anything apart from one scream of 'Dickhead!' and a thinly-vieled line about propellers and erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction is something of a theme to the album, in fact; Turner spends large portions of the album singing about sex, but he generally seems completely disinterested by it. Given how well he writes about love and tenderness - "505", "Despair in the Departure Lounge" - it's a shame to see him flounder when presented with a topic that, if rock history is to be believed, is a lot easier to write songs about. And even when he departs from the topic, the bad ideas continue to get worse - I'm fairly certain nobody needs to be told how "Dangerous Animals" is spelt, and who exactly convinced him that a Woolworths pick'n'mix counter would be good subject matter for "Crying Lightning"? Lord knows why this was chosen as the single - it's a pretty consistent album, but if I were forced to choose a worst song, I'd plump for this one. "Pretty Visitors" clangs too, its sudden tempo shifts making Turner sound almost exactly like George Formby.

Still, even with the band's star player letting his side down, this is a good album. Moreover, it offers tantalizing glimpses of where the band might go next. The biggest hurdle facing them was the need to develop, and they've cleared it with flying colours. If Turner can return to his best - and there's reason to suspect he can't - then the possibilities open to them are potentially limitless. Then, Humbug will be seen a stepping stone. That's certainly how it feels now.



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user ratings (1233)
Chart.
3.5
great
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • Ali (3.5)
    A moody outcast which represents a key moment in the band's career....

    SigismundFreudian (5)
    "If you've a lesson to teach me, I'm listening, ready to learn..."...

    Vegeta of Nazareth (4)
    A daring move from an unlikely candidate that pays off in the end....

    Jordan Speare (4)
    Have they lost a step with this one? Bah Humbug!...

  • FloatFarRemote (3.5)
    A letter of love which refuses to open up, Humbug is as distancing as it is endearing....

    James Rumbold (4)
    The Arctic monkeys aren’t far off the perfect album here. It is without question the mos...

    StanleyKubrick (5)
    Josh Homme is the white rabbit that the Arctic Monkeys have followed all the way down to a...

    Mr0 (3)
    You're gonna be fighting with your sheets, but you ain't gonna lose any sleep over this on...

  • Dan Sarnowski (4)
    The Arctic Monkeys take a risk, but it's well worth the reward....


Comments:Add a Comment 
AliW1993
August 20th 2009


7511 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great review, though I hope I disagree because I've been looking forward to this. The fact that you say Crying Lightning (which I liked) is the worst song does give me hope though.

Gyromania
August 20th 2009


22710 Comments


I hope you're wrong, Nick.

Fugue
August 20th 2009


7371 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

From what I have heard of this it is about as good as favorite worst nightmare (high-end 3.5 to low-end 4) but I haven't heard the whole album, just the five or so songs played on radio one. I hope the rest of the album is as good, and that I can respectfully disagree with you on the rating. It's a great review though, very succinct and to the point, with a good anmount of detail; just what I'd expect from you really.



Fugue
August 20th 2009


7371 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Also I don't know if spelling Woolworths wrong was intentional or not but I thought I'd mention it.

robin
Emeritus
August 20th 2009


4422 Comments


this is my first arctic monkeys album... whoops.

Skyler
August 20th 2009


1084 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I'd say this is on par with everything these guys have put out.

MaskAtTheMasquerade
August 20th 2009


2888 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

luvin it

Phantom
August 20th 2009


8968 Comments


indie cindy artwork

StrizzMatik
August 20th 2009


3601 Comments


Both have been in decline since, Homme in particular - it's been five years since he put his name to anything good.

FAIL

Digging: Quicksand - Interiors

Iai
Emeritus
August 20th 2009


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

name anything

Roach
August 20th 2009


2148 Comments


Album is okay but not much more.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
August 20th 2009


22453 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

As per usual, a good review Nick. One does get the feeling this may be a bridging/stepping stone album of sorts. One that could best be jusdged after they release their next album.



I've given it one listen and can hardly make a comment yet. It's different & appears to need time to grow.

AliW1993
August 20th 2009


7511 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

is this streaming yet?

AtavanHalen
August 20th 2009


17920 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

I think so, maybe.

It's the feature record on Triple J this week, Aussies.

I'm liking it a lot, though that may wear off.

Circa4life
August 20th 2009


289 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I really love this album, but they are basically my favorite band. This album does take a few listens

to get the feel for it though.

Bandido
August 20th 2009


816 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Is it me or has this been a year for band's evolving their sound- RX Bandits lost their ska with the horns, As Tall As Lions became more experimental/progressive, Portugal the Man sorta recreated their earlier sound, and now Arctic Monkeys with this. I've only heard Crying Lightning but with Homme behind the wheel I'm sure the whole CD is darker

AtavanHalen
August 20th 2009


17920 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Stop talking out of your arse.

Douchebag
August 20th 2009


3626 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

When's this released? I'm really looking foward to it as these guys are definitley up there in terms of my favourite bands. Weakest of the 3 albums? that's a huge call... I'll probably love this to bits.

Kiran
Emeritus
August 21st 2009


6021 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I suspected this. Good review, Nick

Nagrarok
August 21st 2009


8546 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Yup, this is a dissapointment. I liked Crying Lightning though.



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