Review Summary: It seems like, nowadays, they’re more concerned about their image rather than their sound and this is a shame.
The Arctic Monkeys are no strangers to change. Any fan can recall of 2009, when the Monkeys, after two extremely successful records that oozed that characteristic style of the band, released Humbug; a rather different record; slower, sticky and heavier, it took some time to accept this new direction that the band decided to take, but in the end, this was still the Arctic Monkeys, and Humbug, excellent as it was, even managed to become one of my favorite records from the band (only behind their classic debut). After Humbug came Suck it And See (2010), in which the band applied a new paint job to this “new sound” and gravitated in direction of a ‘poppier’ approach, relying on some ballads, but never letting go of their rock roots in the, few, heavier tracks “Don’t Sit Down…” and “Library Pictures”. Two years later and history repeats itself as the Arctic Monkeys embrace the winds of change and give us AM, their new studio album.
In AM the band heads further down their “pop” oriented sound, but, this time, they give it a sexy/groovy kind of twist to it. Think about something down the path of what Maroon 5 does, but darker and “junkier” (not to mention about the increase in musicianship). Recurring theme on the record is about getting high and doing stupid stuff sex and relationship-wise (calling/texting drunk; drinking to forget someone etc.). When this approach works, the record shines; but quite a few times, it’s half assed in uninspired songs throughout the record.
“Do I Wanna Know"” starts AM on a high note; this slow burner features some excellent vocal melody on top of a simple guitar riff, that sounds a lot like the one featured on “R U Mine"”. The lyrics on this song are very well written and feature some of that skill that Alex Turner has of writing about sex and relationships in a witty way. Some great examples: “And we both know/that the nights are mainly made for saying things that you can’t say tomorrow day” or “Have you ever thought of calling when you had a few"/’Cause I always do/Maybe I’m too busy being yours to fall for somebody new”.
Other highlights from the first half of the album are “R U Mine"”, that left me wondering why the hell would they feature a almost 2 year old track on the record (sort of feels like cheating), “One for The Road” and “Arabella”, which is the heaviest song on the record, and features some intense influence from Black Sabbath, most notably “War Pigs”. This is one of the best songs Arctic Monkeys have ever written and, definitely the stand out moment of AM.
Five tracks in and so far so good; some tracks stand taller than others, but everything sounds properly okay (that's a key word), and that’s when it all starts to fall apart. “Nº 1 Party Anthem” is a bore. The song is only four minutes long, but feels more like eight. This is a ballad through and through; sort of influenced by gospel music, but unlike the ballads in “Suck it and See”, this kind of slower song doesn’t work well for the band.
Unlike the first half, the latter portion of the album is largely inconsistent. Some tracks are nice hits, like the single “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High"”, which, if Maroon 5 had any talent whatsoever, they would probably sound like this and “Mad Sounds”, a more of a slow tempo song in which the sonority feels influenced by American music (sort of a folk rock, Tom Petty kind of thing), that features a nice chorus and builds up nicely towards the end. But, excluding these two tracks that I mentioned, almost everything after track 5 is passable at best. The second portion of the record is a collection of uninspired, dull, pop songs.
I don’t know; after listening to the record several times, I couldn’t shake the feeling that sounds as if Arctic Monkeys are not even trying as hard to be good anymore. Sure, there are some good efforts in the record, but mostly it all falls flat, especially the second half of the record. I can understand this “commercial” approach, making their sound more pop oriented and accessible and all, but it seems like, nowadays, they’re more concerned about their image rather than their sound and this is a shame.