Arctic Monkeys, who’ve been hanging around the indie rock scene since their record-breaking 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, are the kings of mixing it up. Many see it as something to praise, and others use it as a point of criticism, but the Sheffield quartet has spent the last seven years putting out albums of all shapes and sizes, whether it be the jittery, guitar and riff-based sound of their debut, or the pseudo-darkness of 2009’s Humbug. The fact of the matter is that the always surprising and impressive group has done it again, this time trading in the heartsick loveliness of 2011’s Suck it and See for what is shaping up to be a purely raw rock and roll album. With a handful of dominant singles and a climbing acclaim of critics and fans alike, AM is slated to be one of the best things we’ve heard from these guys to date.
The album opens up with the smash-hit “Do I Wanna Know?”, with an overly addicting opening riff, reverb-coated stomps and claps, and a newly found technique of harmonizing over frontman Alex Turner’s vocals. This track is also one of the first of many on the album that are just gritty; there is a clear shift heard in this song that changes from the band’s usual sound to a much more powerful wave of energy. The next song continues this, and is nothing new to Arctic Monkeys fans. It’s “R U Mine?”, which came up last November when the band was tearing through the US on an arena tour with The Black Keys, and the song is just as strong now as it was 10 months ago. The song that Turner has stated was the basis of AM is just forceful, with strong riffs, heavy drums, and an epic sense of instrumental and vocal layering. “One For The Road” has much more of a groove to it, with a sound and guitar effects that are very reminiscent of Humbug and Suck it and See. The song feels revamped, however, with the same vocal harmonies and sense of maturity that is quickly established on this album. The groove and moodiness is carried over into “Arabella”, an almost dreary track that quickly turns into a distortion-driven jam session that seems to pay a loose homage to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”. “I Want It All” pulls the claps back in and has layered vocals throughout the entire song, along with an addicting ascending riff. My personal favorite aspect of the song is the inclusion of the guitar effect made famous on the “Library Pictures” solo.
At this point, the dynamic of the album shifts dramatically with “No. 1 Party Anthem”. First off, this song should get the award for “Most Misleading Song Title Ever”, because it is not at all a song you would hear at a party. This brings a small influence from Turner’s solo Submarine EP into play with the slow, ballady sound. It also is a prime example of Turner’s ever-awaited lyrical wit, featuring gems like “It’s not like I’m falling in love I just want you to do me no good/And you look like you could”. It then goes into the similarly slowed-down “Mad Sounds”, a track that has prompted Turner to joke in live performances that audience members should “cuddle or something like that”. It’s a truly beautiful song that, again, has the Arctic Monkeys love song wit that shines through in lines like “Out of nowhere, somebody comes and hits you with an/ooh la la la”. Next up is “Fireside”, which starts to pick the energy of the album back up. A heavily rhythm section-driven song, the bass and drum beats shine through along with a synth-like altered backup vocal that runs throughout. It’s followed by another album single, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”, which is one of the album’s highlights that features a walking-pace groove and the same gritty rock feel established earlier on. The difference here is that, despite the power and acidic solo, AM‘s third single tends to stay more relaxed than its two predecessors. The album is then closed out with the Britpoppy, Noel Gallagher-like “Snap Out Of It”, the heavy, dreary and melody-driven “Knee Socks”, and the John Cooper Clarke poem-turned-song “I Wanna Be Yours”, which turns into an almost psychedelic album ending performance.
Despite the fact that I’ve kept my ranting about them pretty tame up until this point, it isn’t a secret that the Arctic Monkeys top the list of one of my favorite and most-respected bands of our time. All of that bias aside, even the biggest of fans has to sit down and decide whether or not a band’s most recent effort is worth while. I alluded earlier to the quartet’s constantly changing sound, but they seem to be honing in on what they want to do for the rest of their careers. AM has been hailed as mature-sounding, and some are even calling it the band’s best effort to date. As both a fan and an attempting-to-be-non-biased writer, I can agree with both of these. Even though the critical acclaim was still at an all time high for these guys 7 years ago when they first made it into the music scene, this is the direction that is sure to get them there again. In case you haven’t noticed, Spin, Pitchfork, NME, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly have all jumped on the train of talking about how great these guys are, and I have no problem doing the same. Arctic Monkeys get a 95/100 for their fifth effort, AM. They seem to be running out of room to get better, but hey. They can always try?
- Do I Wanna Know?
- R U Mine?
- One For The Road
- I Want It All
- No. 1 Party Anthem
- Mad Sounds
- Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
- Snap Out Of It
- Knee Socks
- I Wanna Be Yours