Review Summary: Sex on the brain, grooves in the frame
Arctic Monkeys have always seemed to be a level above much of the swathes of indie rock and roll bands that spawned in the 00’s. Their sharp riffs, poppy hooks and Alex Turner’s superior lyrics saw them rise to popularity and maintain a fan base when so many of their contemporaries fell by the wayside after their 15 minutes were up. Maybe it’s because they consciously evolved, from youthful party animals on their first album, to cynical superstars, then onto the Josh Homme directed ramble into the desert on Humbug. But what really makes the Monkeys maintain success are those same qualities that made them shine in the first place – the sharp song writing and keen eye for hooks. 5th album AM is the purest return to form possible in that sense, as the trio of ?-based singles that proceeded the album are all flat out Arctic pop classics, with numbers such as “R U Mine?” sounding the most overtly hooky and brash the boys have in years, and succeeding confidently as such.
But AM is far from a rehash of old ideas, as it blends the band’s hooky, pop writing with their conscious efforts to be an evolving group of musicians. The absurdly infectious beat of 3rd single “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” displays the boys’ quoted hip hop influence, with drums and bass guitar dominating the melody more than they ever have in a Monkeys track. Their less-breakneck, moodier approach which really started blossoming around the Humbug days is now mastered, as it is brought out of the cluttered murkiness of that album and streamlined, leading to another instant classic with “Do I Wanna Know?”. Measured and probing, the melody marches along behind Turner’s desperate love lyrics, which are wry and memorable, for example: “The nights were mainly made for saying things that you can’t say tomorrow day”. The theme of complicated, desperate romance dominates the front-man’s writing on AM, serving as the perfect accessible blanket laying on top of the sometimes darker musical elements at play. “One For The Road” is a sparse crawl, once again bass guitar and drum driven, oozing moodiness and seediness throughout. “Arabella” is just as satisfying, whilst a little punchier on its chorus and packed full of surreal imagery. Also of note is the heavy use of falsetto backing vocals throughout the album – another clever and catchy trick to balance the darker side of proceedings with a sparking pop touch.
Whilst the band have a couple of minor missteps in the tepid “I Want It All” and “Fireside” the remainder of AM is the Arctic Monkey’s at top quality, and the album is the most exciting and resilient they’ve crafted in years. “No 1 Party Anthem” ranks among the best of the band’s slower moments, almost like one of the stronger Suck It and See mellow numbers, whilst “Snap Out of It” is as catchy as it is fresh for the band. The choice to close the album with their own rendition of legendary punk poet John Cooper Clarke’s “I Wanna Be Yours” is intelligent and perfectly poised. Turner’s own additions to the original lyrics, which uses mundane scenery (“I wanna be your electric meter, I will not run out”) to declare adoration, fit in perfectly on the chorus and warm up the gorgeously sparse arrangement. It’s a wise choice as a closer and serves to sum up all of what came before – desperate love lyrics, written in an urban, almost conversational style, and a more atmospheric musical approach.
AM is a fantastically crafted record, featuring a strong sense of theme and atmosphere, yet never refraining from the pop hooks and catchy song writing that made them a delight from the start. Turner’s lyrics are sharp and memorable, the music has evolved and become appropriately more moody where necessary, and the subtle touches such as the high-pitched backing vocals and clever pacing further demonstrate why the Arctic Monkeys were, are, and will always be, so much more than an just another indie rock band.