Arctic Monkeys
Humbug


4.0
excellent

Review

by Vegeta of Nazareth USER (21 Reviews)
August 20th, 2009 | 30 replies | 3,775 views


Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A daring move from an unlikely candidate that pays off in the end.

4 of 4 thought this review was well written

Sometimes bands need to pull one over on their fans and do something for themselves in experimentation. Straight from their debut, the Arctic Monkeys created a specific sound, image, and attitude for themselves in the music scene. They were pretty much all figured out to be these British post-punks singing about girls on the dance floor and once pointing out to us that in our hype’n’whore society, “There’s only music so that there’s new ringtones.” They hit hard, they hit fast, and they spun around on twangy guitars. After receiving much love from critics and indieheads alike, they throw a curveball our way and state that this third album will be much more "psychedelic" than their last two. The tunes near the end of Favourite Worst Nightmare pop into my head. I remember them being quiet, ambient-filled, slow... I started to fear they would be an advocate for what to expect with Humbug. To my surprise (and relief) the album's experimental mission doesn't cover up their loud riotous roots as much as you'd expect.

One of the most distinct changes right off the bat is the switch in disposition. Being that this is the cloudiest sound the band has managed, the accustomed skeleton they've used many times before gets a bit of a makeover. The usual dance had Alex Turner spitting out hook after hook of vocal lines and the other members guiding him along finding guitar riffs as simple and catchy as their singer’s voice. The drumming fell in place and did a great job keeping the energy up and consistent. That song has ended this time around, and now the instruments are leading the slower, darker grooves. Listening to “My Propeller” feels like watching the couple in this analogy in the middle of the switch. At first, it takes some getting used to. Alex's voice is really relaxed (almost too relaxed being that it's the first song) as he mourns: "My propeller won't spin/And I can't get it started on my own/When are you arriving?"
The song truly does have a small issue getting the album started on its own because it doesn’t dive anywhere especially deep or inviting besides debuting their despair with a ‘Bowser’s castle’ type riff at the close. At most, sadly, it acts more like a kicker to their single, “Crying Lightning”, which better upholds the promised fusion of their consuming hooks entangled with psychedelic elements. The beat is alive, the guitar is employing a ghastly slide, the bass is buzzing... It's a great tune for the record and hardens up to end it effectively.

The ghost-funk workings of “Dangerous Animals” gives a nice edge to our listening experience with producer Josh Homme (of Queens of the Stone Age) moaning in his easily-identifiable ghoul-like voice to create a haunting touch. If you don’t mind songs that spell out their titles, (flashback of Gwen…) then the song rises above acceptable. It's safe to say that you don’t have to listen very hard to sense Homme’s input in Humbug. He does a great job making you feel as though they bring the Mojave Desert they recorded in straight to your ears.
In fact, everything about “Fire And The Thud” screams “Josh Homme in a desert!” from the light and easy drums playing over maracas to the jazzy guitar in the verses. Homme's specialty of making songs grimy and moody without resulting in boredom does wonders for the band's transformation into maturity. When “Potion Approaching” starts playing, many fans will sigh with relief. The bass and drum rhythms strike as a memory of the Monkeys’ debut days where bassist Nick O’Malley and drummer Matt Helders really correspond with each other, driving the song with precision. I can't help but feel that when the song slows down to that 'paralyzed' feel, it's done really well and lasts just enough.

The album, believe it or not, is filled with constant surprises. Turner has always thrown stories into his lyrics here and there, but with "Cornerstone" (the only happy-sounding song on the album and even that's a stretch) he takes it to a higher level. "I thought I saw you in the Battleship/But it was only a look alike..." How cute. Alex's longing for his lover has affected his senses and makes him hallucinate the girl he's after again and again. The fluffy, dreamy track serves as a breakthrough to sophistication (then Alex runs into the girl's sister, and well...).
Before becoming too turned off by the softness, let’s get to the song that stands out the most for obvious reason - "Pretty Visitors". From here on out will be the clearest vision of Whatever People Say I Am... as the track blasts off holding nothing back. After the drums unload a triplet-frenzied stack of measures, Turner shows he still has humor spread out in his writing and asks "What came first - the chicken or the dickheads?" in a much needed call for delinquency.
The only segment coming close to this kind of speed would be the guitar and bass drilling near the end of "Dance Little Liar". Some things never change, it seems, as the traditional slowest and longest last song keeps up the album's theme of impending choruses circling around ghostly screeches. "The Jeweller's Hand" conducts the album to a close.

Humbug is an erratic change of sound for Arctic Monkeys. It's moodier and darker than anything they've played before. It was beneficial of the band to take time to experiment with different sounds instead of recycling the same techniques because it doesn't take imagination to think of a British rock band that has fallen to the trap of redundancy and predictability by their third release. At times, however, you could swear you were listening to a mix purely composed of Queens of the Stone Age and The Age Of the Understatement. It might take a few extra listens, but we have here a solid and ominous grower for the band’s most courageous effort. Underneath it all, the old Monkeys are still here, only using the Pink Floyd influences and spooky effects to give the songs more substance instead of overdosing on colorless ambience.
Once in a while, though, with songs like “Secret Door” bouncing between boring to drowsy, it’s easy to see why their fans were nervous in the first place. The distance of Turner's voice and the overall buoyancy suggests that it would be more suitable as a Last Shadow Puppets' song. Like deja-vu of the very first time they poked their heads into the music scene, the renewed sound leaves us asking not Who the F*** Are the Arctic Monkeys? – but more like Who the F*** Are the Arctic Monkeys This Time?



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user ratings (908)
Chart.
3.5
great
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • SigismundFreudian (5)
    "If you've a lesson to teach me, I'm listening, ready to learn..."...

    Ali CONTRIBUTOR (3.5)
    A moody outcast which represents a key moment in the band's career....

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

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

  • 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....

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

    Nick Butler EMERITUS (3)
    Josh Homme takes Turner and company to the Gadda Da Vida....


Comments:Add a Comment 
AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
August 20th 2009



7232 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Is this streaming? If so post a link or your review will probably be deleated.

Good review, I'm looking forward to hearing this.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
August 20th 2009



20800 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Good review Puddles. After my first listen, I can't really make a comment.

Fix up those paragraphs by editing your review.

Douglas
August 20th 2009



8984 Comments


Nice review. Album is playing constantly on triple J in Aus, though not sure if that counts. I don't know how we got the world premier listening of the album. It's not to shabby either.

Knott-
Emeritus
August 20th 2009



10193 Comments


Think the review is kinda awkward myself but swapping the questiony bits with the Sometimes... bits might be a good idea..

I do not like this album urgh for me they've gotten worse and worse

Douchebag
August 20th 2009



3624 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Damn I want this album. Is it streaming? I missed the triple J playthrough

londoncalling457
August 20th 2009



2565 Comments


I want to listen to this for some reason.

jingledeath
August 20th 2009



7104 Comments


listened to this a while ago, didn't find it interesting so I guess I'll give it another listen later.

PuddlesPuddles
August 21st 2009



4668 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Ahh, I quickly checked Sputnik and saw Humbug featured, so I assumed it streamed and posted mine I had written up...embarrassing! I remember it was streamed for a day or two and then retired...

Thanks guys, Davey what do you mean with the paragraphs? You mean the last couple ones? I admit I don't really know exactly how to properly format..

Care to expand, strikey? I myself think it's a bit awkward but wouldn't know how to improve it. I tried to explain best I could how the sound changed and how it didn't muddy them up as much as everyone thought. It's more experimental but still has the Monkeys' feel underneath it all, you know?

jingledeath, it might take a few extra listens to sink in. Hopefully you'll come to enjoy it... I think it's cool to see the creepier side of them


Douchebag
August 21st 2009



3624 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"it might take a few extra listens to sink in"

The band have said a couple of times that It's a grower.

Titan50
August 21st 2009



4588 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Was gonna review this when I got it :/

LepreCon
August 23rd 2009



3544 Comments


Not like I think anything Josh Homme touches turns into gold, but with him involved I expected this to be better. I can hear his influence but...he should just save it for QotSA

RandyfromPennywise
August 24th 2009



752 Comments


Doesn't it suck when you write a review, then a staff member writes one for the same album, and no one reads yours? It does. Nice review.

gocsa666
August 26th 2009



71 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Urgh, I've listened to this a couple of times now, but it hasn't grown on me (yet). I guess it's good from a technical standpoint, but I expected a lot more, this is just not inspired, and I think the whole album is a mid-tempo borefest - where are the fast songs, guys...

sulfrix
August 27th 2009



28 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

not too bad.

Boognish
August 27th 2009



1003 Comments


This band has always been mediocre, overhyped bullshit.

Titan50
September 1st 2009



4588 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this is good, you guys are just maaaaad

TheLetter4
September 30th 2009



61 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

good review, i think a 4 is the perfect rating, it's nowhere near their best,but then again, their best is amazing...and overhyped bullshit? what hype? ther soo underrated, otherwise they'd be played on mainstream radio ALL the fuckin time! i saw them live in Toronto last night and they absolutely killed it! name one other band currently recording music that is as poise, ballsy, unique and good live as the Arctics?

Kashmir09
October 5th 2009



772 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I'm confused, I'm a huge QOTSA fan and a huge Arctic Monkeys fan, yet this album doesn't do much for me. I wanna love it so bad, c'mon..

bears
October 21st 2009



106 Comments


I dont know what to do to like this? But i dont, yet.

Any suggestions?

LisaC
October 24th 2009



2 Comments


I listened to this album around the same time I listened to the latest Muse and the latest Killers. This is the only album I didn't switch off midway because -it-was-just-too-much-BS-get-a-grip.....!!!! But maybe that's just my own personal taste in music calling rather than the actual objective aesthetic of the songs, no idea.

I like this album, and ....ok I get everyone's point... but you got to give those guys a chance to settle into their new sound and make it their own.

Also Crying Lightening was arranged by a genius, and the lyrics are not so bad either right?



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