Arctic Monkeys
Humbug


3.5
great

Review

by Ali CONTRIBUTOR (130 Reviews)
June 3rd, 2011 | 23 replies | 4,602 views


Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A moody outcast which represents a key moment in the band's career.

Sophomore albums may often be cited as the biggest challenge for up-and-coming bands, but in reality things can be a lot more difficult third time around. Record number three is often the point where some of the most important decisions have to be made, and it is these choices which can ultimately define the rest of a band's career. This conundrum was made obvious to Sheffield quartet Arctic Monkeys following the phenomenal success of their first two full-lengths. They had two choices; follow the example of Favourite Worst Nightmare by persisting with their tried and tested formula, or go off on a tangent by exploring new musical pathways and expanding on their established sound. Going with the former risked fading to irrelevance as musical trends and listener habits inevitably move on, while the latter was even more treacherous since it risked alienating existing fans who had fallen in love with their earlier work.

As it turns out, Arctic Monkeys not only went with the latter – but took it to it’s extreme. Almost completely abandoning the carefree indie-punk of their first two outings, the band engaged in an exuberant stoner-rock U-turn, enlisting the help of the genre’s messiah, Josh Homme, and even recording in his famous Joshua Tree studio in the middle of the Californian desert. Although only officially declared producer, the partnership acted as more of a collaboration, with Homme lending his distinctive vocal to a handful of the album’s tracks and the collision of styles yielded predictably obscure results. Tempos were slowed down significantly, the spiky riffs were replaced with a noticeably denser and heavier guitar sound, and, perhaps most importantly, tunes were largely left behind in favour of a more thoughtful, textured approach.

It was a process which brought about some fairly mixed results. The lack of any real hooks means that some of the tracks end up stuck in a state of mundane limbo, and even some of the more memorable cuts such as My Propeller and Crying Lightning come nowhere near packing the same punch as the majority of the band’s earlier output. As such, the tracks which carry the biggest changes are often among the record’s highlights. Take Potion Approaching, for example – a song which includes a QOTSA-style robotic riff which the band pull off with surprising finesse and which proves a lot more enjoyable than some of the gloomy sludge with which it is surrounded. Better still is the woozy stoner stomp Dance Little Liar, the bottom most pit of Humbug’s darker tendencies which is as appetising as it is shocking coming from a band who had given few previous hints of such a doom-ridden direction. However, the undoubted gem in Humbug’s armory comes in the shape of the most Arctic Monkeys-like song on offer – the glorious ballad Cornerstone. Among the sluggish dirge, it’s wondrous melody stands out like a sore thumb, and acts as a welcome reminder of Alex Turner’s natural songwriting gift.

While Turner’s songwriting credentials can seem somewhat wasted on the majority of the record, his lyrical prowess only seems to progress and grow even further. He’s moved on from his initial tales of suburban trials and tribulations, and now settles for words of altogether more random topics. They may be less meaningful, but he nevertheless comes up with some terrific one-liners such as the immortal “what came first – the chicken or the dickhead?” which, in a way, prove just as enjoyable. The frontman has also slowed his delivery to a far more languid and considered style, which in effect means that his lyrics, along with their sheer absurdity, hit home more than ever before. It’s an adjustment which could prove challenging for the existing fan, but in truth, Humbug was never really intended to be a fan-pleasing record. Instead, the quartet aimed for a transitional release, experimenting with different styles to expand their sonic pallet. It may not be an entirely successful or brilliant album, but it nevertheless proves enjoyable through most of its duration, perhaps more so than it’s somewhat rushed predecessor. Perhaps more importantly, though, Humbug will be looked upon in the future as one of the key moments in the career of a fine band, and while it may not be their finest hour it’s certainly a vital stepping-stone.



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user ratings (962)
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..."...

    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!...

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

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


Comments:Add a Comment 
bloc
June 3rd 2011


34848 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I`m starting to like this

Digging: Interpol - El Pintor

Tyrael
June 3rd 2011


20875 Comments


You're on a roll Ali! Great review.

Digging: Darkspace - Dark Space III I

Psychopathologist
June 3rd 2011


1924 Comments


lol this album

niccos16
June 3rd 2011


6 Comments


Good review, especially liked the conclusion. I feel like looking more into this band now

garth
June 3rd 2011


91 Comments


Great review. That's exactly how I feel about the album. Pos'd.

NigelH
June 3rd 2011


1571 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great review. Album is underrated. pos'd.

FromDaHood
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2011


9034 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I swear to god that i've read this review before.

Omaha
Staff Reviewer
June 3rd 2011


10190 Comments


Man, nobody mentions Secret Door but it's the best one on the album!

Digging: The Contortionist - Language

NigelH
June 4th 2011


1571 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Secret Door is good, but I think Dance Little Liar takes the cake.

clercqie
Contributing Reviewer
June 4th 2011


6448 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This album is the defenition of a 'grower album'.

Great review, Ali! Pos'd.

Digging: Interpol - El Pintor

WhiteNoise
June 4th 2011


3147 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

So close to 5'ing the shit out of this.

Nagrarok
June 4th 2011


8239 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Nice, it would be great if you moved further backwards and included Favourite Worst Nightmare and Whatever People Say I Am, I'd love to read your views on those.

KILL
June 4th 2011


71743 Comments


dont do it croc

Digging: Invisible - El jardin de los presentes

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
June 4th 2011


7333 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks for the nice comments guys.

Nag: I wasn't planning on doing the discography, I just got the urge to review this too after doing the new record. I certainly could give the other two a shot if I feel like it, though.

G3N3R1C
June 4th 2011


1945 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

relistened to this earlier today, actually.

there's more tracks on here that i like than i originally recalled.

Nagrarok
June 4th 2011


8239 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I wasn't planning on doing the discography, I just got the urge to review this too after doing the new record.


I thought so, but you are definitely the right man for the job. Do them if you feel like it.

DoubtGin
June 4th 2011


6752 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

DO IT

DoubtGin
June 4th 2011


6752 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

review made me listen to The View From the Afternoon again

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
June 4th 2011


7333 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Ok you've made my mind up for me. Might take a while, though.

WhiteNoise
June 5th 2011


3147 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I'm still on the fence over their newie.



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