‘AM’ was always going to be difficult. I’ve always liked the Arctics, I was 16 when ‘Whatever People Say I Am…’ hit and it changed lives. Not mine, although in 2006, in the midst of the folk rock which was congealing and has proven un-killable ever since, a punk album was really very welcome. I’ve got nothing against Mumford and Sons, oh, how frustrated they must be that ‘Little Lion Man’ wasn’t appreciated in its own time! But just occasionally that stuff gets too much and then I crave Arctic Monkeys. Since 2006 every album’s been different and this one has taken some particularly radical turns, but real, throbbing, set-something-on-fire rock is as present here as it ever has been. That’s not a bad start.
Like I said, ‘AM’ takes some getting used to. For the last few months everyone’s been praying for an album full of ‘I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor’. I’m glad they didn’t get it. I suppose it’s not anyone’s fault for thinking that and they can hold the opinion if they absolutely must, but they shouldn’t pretend they know what they’re talking about. How stupid and disappointing that would have been. Alex Turner is 27 now which is young but not Sex Pistols young, and though his heavy-hop thing turned out to be a bit unspectacular he did need something new. Fair play for trying. ‘AM’ was a ***ing brilliant idea, but again I find myself comparing an idea to the product, the album ‘in the moment’, and that’s where the 3.5 comes in.
‘The Arctic Monkeys have gone sexy’, I keep hearing. That’s an understatement, at its best - we haven’t got to the bad stuff yet - ‘AM’ is a daring and greasy thing. Turner has said just how important R&B and hip hop have been to the album and he’s really done his homework. ‘Arabella’ is good, with nasty bass and a guitar that dribbles over the top just like a ‘Dre track. ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ is a standout, it’s a throbbing thing with sinewy guitars and gargling overtones that leave it halfway between hard rock and kamikaze hip hop. The hip hop here acts a bit like the funk in a Pixies track, it makes for a begrudged delivery into the dirty, lustful world that started with the Stooges and has pulsed through good rock ever since. When it’s like this you hear how the whole thing should’ve sounded.
And there are some other good bits. Everyone says this record is ‘haunted’. I think that’s a bit misleading – just so we’re clear, it’s the Arctics who are doing the haunting. Alex Turner’s voice is still distinctly British and whiny, so much so that it risks becoming a self-parody. But for now it’s perfectly ghostly. He shouldn’t really sing to anyone who he isn’t prepared to ***, because that wouldn’t be fair. ‘Mad Sounds’ is cool. It’s a poppy Velvet Underground track with the dead-pan singing and fragile, optimistic guitar trickling over the top. The Arctics aren’t angry any more and maybe something has been lost, but punk’s eloquent frontman remains and loud guitars infect all of ‘AM’. Just like the Velvets we’re 5 albums in now and they’re batting for a rock-solid attitude, a maturity that we hope for, and that has so much more authority, because, how cute, we’ve grown up with them. ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ is a cool take on a Bowie track, it’s a massive swaying thing. But the greater the influencers the more depressing it is that ‘AM’ can’t match them.
But there are a lot of things wrong with ‘AM’. Yeah, the influences are diverse but that doesn’t mean we should call the album ‘inspired’ or whatever straight away. This could have been a heavy-hop masterpiece but instead it’s a bit confused and flailing. Sure, do some strange stuff, and ‘R U Mine’ proves Americanized pursuits are worthwhile, but the heavy-hop sound, the ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ should have been the focus. ‘Knee Socks’ almost tricks you into liking it. We must remember its flashes of easy pop are essentially crap. I know we’re all very hip and have become R&B lovers overnight but please Alex, not Daniel Beddingfield. The chorus makes me want to eat my own fingers. It’s not actually terrible, it’s just below average, but who would ever listen to a song they think is below average? And what is a terrible song if not one you’d never listen to?
‘I Wanna Be Yours’ is alright but for the lyrics. “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, Breathing in your dust. I wanna be your Ford Cortina, I will never rust.” How horrible is that! Whether he means it or not isn’t the point. Josh Homme is credited on the record and you can hear The Queens of the Stone Age in ‘Snap Out Of It’ but it comes off more like Scouting for Girls. There’s a place for that sort of pop-rock but this isn’t it. ‘Fireside’ is more filler. It’s a bit strange to have written a review that complains about an album so good but ‘AM’ fell just a tad below my expectations. Still, the band have reinvented themselves about 17 times so fair play to them. ‘AM’ does do some things pretty well – there’s some real muscle to it and it is as punk, as laughably intelligent as ever, ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ is nothing like one. It’s perfectly sarcastic. If, like me, you count on them to deliver decent rock in the face of Coldplay-shaped adversity then give this a go. The Arctic Monkeys are growing up but they might just have gotten away with it.