Review Summary: Falsetto.
In a very general sense, Arctic Monkeys fans haven't been pleased with the direction of the band since Favourite Worst Nightmare
. Of course, to suggest that this is the opinion of every fan would be ridiculous, and there are those with strong feelings to the contrary, but there was (and is) an undeniable outcry against the Monkeys' altered style from Humbug
onwards. These past few years can't have been easy for the band, with half their fanbase crying out for them to return to their indie-rock roots, the other half hoping for them to continue with a hard rock/stoner rock style, and neither half willing to accept the other. With this is mind, creating an album that is in neither style, but instead an entirely new sound for the band, is perhaps the cleverest thing that the Arctic Monkeys could have done.
Put simply, AM
is a sexy record. It's been described as “a really cool, sexy after-midnight record” (hence the album title) and this really couldn't be more true. Alex Turner is on the top of his game vocally, continuing the immense progress he has made as a vocalist since the band began, and he absolutely knows it and uses it to full effect. Turner's lyrics may not be quite as innovative or witty as they once were, but he still knows a thing or two about creating a seductive vibe as his lines about love and lust whirl effortlessly around Matt Helders' slightly more restrained but powerful drums, Jamie Cook's crunchy, thick guitar riffs and the backing falsetto. Oh, the backing falsetto
. Alternatively provided by Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age fame and the Monkeys themselves, there is scarcely a moment on AM
that isn't supported (or even dominated) by the smooth tones of falsetto, and it is absolutely for the best.
One of the more notable aspects that emerges about AM
upon repeated listens is its consistency. A consistently enjoyable and well-trimmed album is the elusive rabbit that Arctic Monkeys have been chasing, but never quite catching, since their inception. AM
is, finally, the realisation of this – an album of perfect length, not too long and not too short, and without a hint of filler. Every single song here (from the harder rocking tunes of “R U Mine?” and “Arabella” to the smooth pop numbers “Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?” and “Snap Out Of It” to the shimmeringly sweet ballads “No. 1 Party Anthem” and “I Wanna Be Yours”) serves its purpose as a part of the collective whole and works brilliantly as an individual song. It really is quite an achievement for the four-piece.
Of course, one can't talk about AM
without mentioning the guest appearances of the famous Josh Homme. Having had his guest spot described as “returning one back scratch for another”, there is a worry that Homme is going to contribute as disappointingly little in his featured tracks as Alex Turner did on QOTSA's “If I Had A Tail”, and from Homme's first feature in “One for the Road”, this would seem to be the case; Homme lays down a backing falsetto track in his typical masterful way but never steps into the spotlight. Homme's second feature on the bridge of “Knee Socks” is another story entirely, being arguably the most jaw-dropping moment of the album; the Monkeys lay down yet another addictive falsetto hook as Josh Homme adds his distinctive grunge-y lower range into the melting pot. “Knee Socks” itself may be the absolute highlight of AM and one of the best songs of the year, with yet another falsetto chorus boasting a hook that Timberlake himself would be proud of.
The flaws that do exist in AM
are little more than nitpicks. For example, there's the way that “R U Mine?” and “Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?” have essentially the same chorus melody with different lyrics, or how “Arabella”'s instrumental melody is pinched shamelessly from Black Sabbath's “War Pigs”; but, in essence, AM
is almost flawless. What the Arctic Monkeys have achieved here is the perfect realisation of their sound without sticking solely to their sound; an album that is far enough away from the band's roots to be experimental without alienating true fans. And although there will always be purists who miss the days of Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
, and this album is not likely to silence them (then again, what is?) AM
is, in summary, the best album that the Monkeys have created thus far.