Review Summary: (Pop-rock + Psychedelia + Hard Rock) Romantic lyrics + nonsense = Suck It And See.
There is something about the scenery of Southern California that has seemed to inspire a multitude of musicians throughout time. Is it the natural beauty of the land? The tropical atmosphere? Or maybe it's the warm California sun that floats above it all. These things have all served as muses of inspirations for many artists. "California Dreamin"
by The Mamas and Papas, comes directly to mind. An emotional ode sung by a narrator yearning for the warm embrace of the California climate as he walks around a strange and cold land in the middle of winter, feeling lost and out of place. California has also been the birthplace of many musical styles and genres that remain popular even today, including perhaps it's most important child, Psychedelia.
Psychedelia erupted out of the streets of Haight-Ashbury in the early 1960's. Fueled by the usage of psychoactive drugs, Eastern philosophy, hedonism, and the yearning for individualism. Artists throughout the world began to participate in the trend and evidently spawned some of the greatest music ever written. A land that has left such a legacy and influence in popular music, it's no wonder that California native, Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age, invited the Arctic Monkeys over to record their 3rd album, Humbug
, which strongly embraced the Psychedelic sound of California. I don't know if it was the warm sandy beaches of the California shore, the arid landscapes of the great American desert, or some mystical transference of energy that has possessed them, but whatever the reason may be, the Arctic Monkeys have refused to return home to England. The band recorded their 4th album, Suck It And See
, entirely in Los Angeles and the influence the Golden Sate has had on them has never been more evident. In fact, all of it's music videos, especially "The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala"
and "Brick By Brick"
, all seem to emphasize the scenery of California's natural landscapes almost as much as the band. From Psychedelia, Sunshine Pop, to Desert Rock, Suck It And See is a revival of almost every genre that was conceived in California during the 1960's.
After the dissolution Humbug created among the Arctic Monkeys' fanbase, there were only two requests their fans had for the new album. One side wanted them to return to their old frantic "Pop-rock" sound, while the other wanted them to expand on their new, darker Psychedelic sound. So, which side got their wish? Well, here is the underlying paradox; they both got what they wanted and at the same they also didn't. Unlike the gloomy shadows that darkened the music of Humbug, there is a light of optimism that shines throughout Suck It And See. This album, in a way, incorporates every genre the Arctic Monkeys have ever experimented with while at the same time embracing new sounds. Opening track, "She's Thunderstorms"
, sets the tone for most of the album right away. It's an overall innocent sounding song with lyrics telling a story about a certain girl and it's wrapped up in a very poppy and catchy packaging. These are all familiar territories for the Arctic Monkeys but the music leaves us baffled and lost on the first listen. These aren't the "old" Arctic Monkeys or the "Humbug" Arctic Monkeys, this is a new band with an entirely new sound. The pop sound continues throughout songs like "Black Treacle"
and "Brick By Brick"
, both showing faint signs of the Psychedelic influence encountered in Humbug. One thing that the listener will notice right way is the ambiguity in the lyrics throughout the album. While some lyrics might be Alex Turner displaying his poetic sense of humor, most of the time it's complete nonsense. "Black Treacle"
, for all of it's catchiness and elated nature within it's music, contains lyrics that are completely nonsensical. "Brick By Brick"
, on the other hand, just seems like Alex Turner was too lazy to write anything clever for the song.
There seems to be two themes that keep recurring throughout Suck It And See, and that's; romance and laziness. The majority of the lyrics on the album seem to talk about an unstable relationship the narrator has with a certain girl, but he tells us all about it while using eccentric, and at times, haphazard metaphors. The album cover itself, a blank vanilla-colored background with the words "Suck It And See" written in the middle. I suppose it may be a reflection of The Beatles' White Album cover, representing a new beginning or a clean slate, but in it's simplicity, can also be seen as yet another example of the band's lackadaisical nature in this album. But that isn't to say this is a bad album, far from it. And the lyrical ambiguity does work at times, an example would be "The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala"
. Musically, it has an ethereal dream-like atmosphere decorated in psychedelia. Pop ballads, "Piledriver Waltz"
and "Love Is A Laserquest"
, share the same structure and show the softer side of the band that is at times heartwarming. The lyrics are also a bit more comprehensible. "Reckless Serenade"
and "Suck It And See"
show a Morrissey-esque sound combined with the Sunshine Pop sound the band has currently developed and also show a much more mature lyrical content dealing with, yet again, romance. And that's another factor in Suck It And See, the lack of diversity in the lyrical content. All of the songs on the album either deal with relationships, while others are just obscure in meaning and appear to be indolently written.
But Suck It And See isn't just all romantic pop music, there are a few times that the band revisit some of their older nature. "Library Pictures"
is as frantic and aggressive as the band have ever been, while incorporating a midsection of Stoner-influenced guitar strumming while Alex Turner sings the most inexplicable lyrics on the entire album. "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair"
and "All My Own Stunts"
both show that there is still some "Humbug" left in the band, containing a more sinister sound than the rest of the songs on the album. "All My Own Stunts"
also features the backing vocals of Josh Homme, perhaps his way of checking up on his recent protégés. The Japanese bonus track, "The Blond-O-Sonic Shimmer Trap"
, is another example of Arctic Monkeys' displaying their darker side. It was a mistake leaving it out of the album, in my opinion. The track compliments the heavier songs of the album very well and would have added a better balance between soft and hard songs.
The album finishes with "That's Where You're Wrong"
, a wonderfully orchestrated psychedelic ballad. With each note that floats through the ear and enters the mind, it immediately takes you away to a warm California summer day. Now I, and this is just me, was a bit disappointed with this song because I was expecting another really great ending like in their past albums. The passionate ending to Favorite Worst Nightmare, "505"
, is an unforgettable track. It drew us in with it's soft piano intro and it continued to build up with every minute and finally erupting into a passionate climax, it was an experience. And of course, there is Humbug's ghastly climax, "The Jeweller's Hands"
. It seduced our minds with it's ominous atmosphere and haunting sound, leaving us spellbound as we descended deeper and deeper into world of inescapable darkness. Compared to those two, "That's Where You're Wrong"
is a bit weak, but it's not a bad song, quite the contrary. It's an enjoyable track, but not as memorable as it's predecessors.
Suck It And See is certainly an accomplished album, but in some aspects it's a step down from it's predecessors. Arctic Monkeys made their fame by writing frantic pop songs, which are a dime dozen in the Indie rock scene, but their lyrical writing showed a sense of maturity far beyond their years - And that's what separated them from all the rest. In Favorite Worst Nightmare, the band evolved as they began to develop a dexterity for their respective instruments while displaying a much deeper perspective of the world around them in their lyrics, far beyond the youthful mentality of their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. In Humbug, on the other hand, the lyrics were much more poetic and ambiguous and the music was much more artistic. The songs of Humbug served a higher purpose than just some catchy songs to jam to, it was something to get lost in as the music took us away into it's own world. But that kind of mature writing isn't found in most of the songs in the new album, and it's disappointing. Some songs, like "Brick By Brick"
and "Library Pictures"
, seem to be random arrangement of words that serve no meaningful purpose. Even the more "serious" songs have very strange, almost satirically obscure metaphors, and others are just complete and utter nonsense. But then again, maybe there is more to these lyrics than meets the eye. And after all, I suppose Rock and Roll doesn't always have to make sense and have a meaning or a message behind it's lyrics, sometimes songs are written just for the sake of being enjoyed by the listener.