Review Summary: So bring in the psychedelic twang, falsetto backing vocals and Alex’s new grown-up haircut and listen to Arctic Monkeys schmaltz through 12 songs your dad will like.
Arctic Monkey’s fifth studio album AM
can be best described in reference to the long running documentary series “7 Up,” which follows the lives of a select group of people in seven year intervals. Like the documentary, we can stand in the present and look back on a steady, linear career as the band’s style evolved, but who could have stood seven years ago at the release of Whatever People Say I Am…
and have predicted the band becoming so, well, dejected? Arctic Monkey’s debut was anything but: with a cigarette sneer and an endless supply of observational gold it was a healthy “*** you” to polite society. Now they sound just about ready to start playing fake tales at weddings.
Someone will get that.
So bring in the psychedelic twang, falsetto backing vocals and Alex’s new grown-up haircut and listen to Arctic Monkeys schmaltz through 12 songs your dad will like. AM
represents a fairly straightforward hybrid of past material where the band’s early punch and circumstance is blown hazily through Humbug
’s stoner rock roach. This leads to a fairly eclectic but nevertheless fitting mix of riff-lead singles and smoky, distant ballads, forming a setlist more likely to be played after the clubs close instead of before a night on the town.
To their credit it works when they set their mind to it. Opening tracks “Do I Wanna Know?” and “R U Mine?” (you tell me, Alex) offer a one-two punch of catchy hooks and the kind of cheesy machismo created by songs completely dominated by simple riffs. “R U Mine?” might even prompt flashbacks of the band’s indie-punk origins as Alex momentarily drops the late-night predatory sneer coating his vocals for the rest of “the really cool, sexy after-midnight record.” Juxtaposed together, it’s interesting to see how wildly different the effects of both vocal styles are: from exciting seven years ago to more distant and glazed-over today. Arctic Monkeys are getting older a bit faster than time should allow them.
This all culminates in “No. 1 Party Anthem:” a song as good as it is deemed toungue-in-cheek, simply because it’s hard to tell. On one hand, the slow paced ballad obviously smirks at its own title, on the other we can argue all day about how seriously old/young Alex is taking the chase he describes. Lyrically he is very serious, but he sounds reflective to the point of exhaustion. A similar thing can be said about the album’s closer “I Wanna Be Yours,” as lyrics (borrowed from a poem) like “I wanna be your Ford Cortina, I will never rust”
are matched with stone cold serious delivery. From a man known for his own lyrical prowess it can only be a joke, but then again the band now spell song titles like they were received by text from a middle aged parent so the question remains.
The ambiguity continues into AM
’s lyrics as a whole. Styles have shifted from witty soundbites to more atmospheric stories, but while still good enough there’s little in the way of any burn-into-memory lines like the kind strung together in Whatever People Say I Am…
or the ever memorable “what came first, the chicken or the dickhead?”
. As one of the main attractions to the band originally it seems too good to be ignored, though it’s understandable Arctic Monkeys feel a bit past those kind of lines now they’re all grown-up.
suffers pretty heavily from weak spots as Arctic Monkeys sink so far into their late-night, sexy role they forget to be interesting. The second half of the album can almost be considered a write off as it swings from dull to bland: barely registering like a ticking clock. Seven years on from their tearaway days it seems there isn’t too much for the band to talk about. Arctic Monkeys sing about girls now; god help us.
Still, the album is far from a complete flop. The northern lads may have tamed over the past few years but they’ve at least still got a little bit of “the stuff.” Falsetto vocals are a novel -if a little overused- introduction, and Arctic Monkeys have grown a nice ear for melodies, which they use to colour up otherwise monochrome ballads. AM
sounds pretty unique, too, but at the same time if just doesn’t feel very special. Their self-imposed exile from pop music’s form of Overton window doesn’t seem to have payed off at all.