Review Summary: Riffs, finally
Prior to the release of their fifth album, Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner had stated on several occasions in interviews that he had always desired to be able to produce huge arena-caliber songs. In spite of the success of the band's previous albums, and especially their debut, it was clear that Turner was still dissatisfied with some elements of his songwriting. And I happen to readily agree with this -- The ever-present acute lyrical wit found on older recordings cannot be denied and is a merit in itself, in the way it touched on nightlife and romantic sensibilities; However, the instrumental aspect of the band's sound rarely veered outside of the comfortable alternation between hastily strung together faux-punk chords and the strumming of clichedly wistful arpeggios.
What AM does differently is that it brings actual riffs to the table. And it does this with commendable success. Guitar hooks like the one found on Do I Wanna Know?
are bound to get listeners to hum or chant along with it. Meanwhile the dynamic and energetic riffs on R U Mine?
makes one wonder how Turner can sing and play them at the same time. Arabella
has a short and sweet solo, although its campy character makes one feel like its inclusion was just-for-the-sake. Speaking of this song, Alex Turner takes the chance to bring out the closet Black Sabbath fanboy in him, as one of the riffs is a reference to the metal godfathers' War Pigs
. During live performances, the band would straight-up play the riff from War Pigs as homage, although the allusion is, unfortunately, probably lost on the vast majority of the audience. Lastly, I want to also pay attention to Knee Socks
, whose jumpy and evocative guitar line and dreamy feel manage to conjure up a very genuine melancholy. Josh Homme, of Queens of the Stone Age fame, makes a vocal contribution in the bridge here, and it absolutely elevates the song to a whole new level of impact.
This hook-based formula is definitely successful in bringing a larger audience to the band. At the expense of shedding its hardcore fanbase of hipsters and scene kids, AM has successfully drawn in a more international (especially US-based) and diverse crowd. Apparently mosh pits are now a regular thing at Arctic Monkeys shows, and the audience's intensity on gigs such as the infamous Earls Court shows of late 2013 was described as nearly lethal. This opening-up to a broader audience has been criticised by many, but it does fit with the band's plan and is a smooth progression. It has to be noted, however, that the employment of the formula is only limited, as many songs on the album, such as Fireside
and Mad Sounds
, are a retreat into the campy, depressed territory of previous albums, and as such are merely inferior complements to the singles that truly drive this record forward. If those singles were only a test for how well the turn in sound would be received, then the test's unquestionable success can be a very promising factor in making the band explore more of that vein in its future. This is something I'd like to see.
The previously mentioned trademark lyrical sharpness pervades this record, like all AM albums prior, although the focus on a single theme (in this case, romantic affairs), can get a bit annoying. In the end, this is expected, since the band thrives well on being in the highlife ruckus that mass media so much likes to flash its spotlight on; apparently keeping this personal element in the lyrics is deemed by Turner & co. as the safest bet, and that's how the lack of incentive for lyrical exploration and expansion is justified, for now. However, if the turn in sound also signifies a more adventurous lyrical approach for future albums, I predict an even greater success for the band. That is, unless cocaine gets the better of them in the meantime.
Do I Wanna Know?
R U Mine?