Review Summary: A bold step forward which more than justifies previous meanderings.
To me, at least, the best reviews are the ones that stick with you, and one which has taken residence in my mind is The Sunday Times’ take on Arctic Monkeys’ third LP, Humbug. As if looking mystically into a musical crystal ball, the writer proclaimed in 2009 that;
While the music press have already acclaimed Humbug, I’m taking bets on the band’s next album being labelled “a return to form.”
Fast forward two years, and it appears that this reviewer (Mark Edwards, to give him his just recognition) did indeed have a point. Humbug certainly wasn’t a bad record, and it represented a brave transition for a band who had made their name performing far more light hearted material. It was, however, the sound of a band in transition, and managed to put many off by largely abandoning tunes in favour of texture – with the notable exception of Cornerstone, which arguably ranks as their finest moment to date. Moreover, though, despite being a courageous turn, Humbug never really felt like anything more than an experiment, and Edwards again hit the nail on it’s head by calling the album “an intriguing but inessential diversion.”
Suck It And See, on the other hand, is the sound of that experiment coming to fruitition. The darker, heavier atmosphere, largely blamed on the influence of Josh Homme, remains, but this time it is balanced more evenly with Alex Turner’s undeniable songwriting genius. The energy, which was almost completely missing from Humbug, makes a welcome return, but this time in the form fully realised stoner rock songs, a far cry from the punky nuggets with which they initially made their name. It may not sound vastly appealing to the many fans who fell in love with their milestone debut, but the reality is that they have long since moved on, and are now making music which is proving to be just as charming as well as rewarding. One key aspect of the band's sound which thankfully hasn’t been altered, though, is Turner’s lyrical wisdom, and this is a record which only reaffirms his position as one of the most talented word smiths of his generation. In fact, the laid back and languid delivery that he has adopted in recent years has only served to enhance the effect of his words, reflecting his growing confidence and maturity. Nowhere is this shown better than the title track, a late album highlight which houses the gem “I poured my aching heart into a pop song / I couldn’t get the hang of poetry / that’s not a skirt girl, that’s a sawn off shotgun / and I only hope you’ve got it aimed at me.”
Instrumentally too, the band appear more adept than ever before. Bassist Nick O’Malley puts in his strongest contribution yet, and proves the driving force behind the success of many of the songs by providing strong and stable foundations. Drummer Matt Helders on the other hand is clearly having a lot more fun than he did while recording Humbug, sounding far more energised and enthusiastic, and even lends his vocal to ‘Brick By Brick.’ Jamie Cooke meanwhile, continues to expand his pallet, and here he is just as likely to produce tangled psychedelic riffs (‘Library Pictures’) as he is Alice In Chains-esque drones (‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’) or sixties retro-pop chimes (‘Reckless Serenade’). This wide range of styles on offer just goes to prove that this is the band’s most varies output yet, and that their various experimental turns and side-projects were in fact worthwhile.
Perhaps most importantly, however, Suck It And See sees the band produce at a time when they were beginning to have their first doubters. As dividing as Humbug was, it now seems like a necessary sidestep, and one which has helped the band to return to something approaching their very best, There will, of course, always be a contingent of their fanbase who believe that their debut album will never be topped, but Suck It And See goes some way towards proving that such a feat is indeed possible. They may not quite be there yet, but they’re certainly not far off, and given that they’ve seemingly been around for so long, it’s easy to forget that time is still on their side.