Arctic Monkeys return with new influences, bigger sound.
7.8 / 10
Reading the NME review of the Arctic Monkeys‘ fifth LP, AM, I found myself laughing (at least in my head). Read the article yourself. I realize I’m nowhere near qualified to critique such an established, relevant, and trusted publication, but seriously, come on. Name dropping Bowie and Dylan in the same sentence as Alex Turner’s British posse can’t (and shouldn’t) be taken seriously. Reviewer Mike Williams even has the gull to proclaim the band’s latest offering “… the greatest record of the past decade”. AM is NOT a perfect album; it doesn’t even try to be. However, it is an album that can be enjoyed front to back, and one that continues to show artistic growth and promise for the decorated band.
The Arctic Monkeys were thrust into the spotlight by the same English hype that led to the label bidding war for The Strokes. Their first big single, the chart topping “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”, established the band as tight-knit rockers who stood out in the ubiquitous stream of rock revival bands that flooded the airwaves in the mid 2000s. This x-factor is most likely due to main songwriter Alex Turner’s clever wordplay, and his ability to blend the band’s sound with broad, and sometimes latent influences. The group’s previous effort, 2011’s Suck It And See was received well by critics, and featured a more direct and expansive sound opposed to 2009’s Humbug. Still, none of their albums have experienced the same commercial or critical success as 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, I’m Not — the debut that crowned the group “Our Generation’s Most Important Band” — by no publication other than NME.
AM, (a clever play on the Velvet Underground’s 1985 VU compilation), was recorded in Joshua Tree California, and, along with familiar producer James Ford, the album features guest appearances by drummer Pete Thomas, Queens of the Stone Age founder Josh Homme, and film composer Bill Ryder-Jones. Last July, Turner revealed to be writing new material while touring the states with the Back Keys, while mentioning current influences as diverse as Dr. Dre and Black Sabbath. It doesn’t take long to figure out who the band opened for during that tour. In fact, AM’s first cut, the previously released “Do I Wanna Know?”, sounds like it wouldn’t be out of place on the Keys’ Brothers. That statement might not be interpreted as a good thing, but it actually isn’t bad at all — the new suit fits them well. There aren’t any “Mardy Bum” pop cuts this time around; just 42 minutes of hard hitting rock and roll. Yet throughout, Arctic Monkeys take on an American, bluesy pastiche without ever losing their identity.
Amidst crunchy guitars and stomping drums, tracks “R U Mine?”, “Arabella”, and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” all lunge forward with unrestrained energy. “Arabella”, a particular standout, lends it lyrical themes of lust and personal struggle (as does much of the album): “And when she needs to shelter from reality/ she takes a dip in my daydreams”. Many of best moments rely on the crescendo of churning guitar and cymbal crashes that designates the Black Key’s best tunes, but there are times when the formula seems derivative. This is especially evident on the weaker tracks “Fireside” and “Snap Out Of It”, which seem almost secondhand. It doesn’t help that the awkwardly sequenced, mid-album ballad “No. 1 Party Anthem”, seems to halt all momentum. There is definitely a bit of a lull in the record’s second half, but luckily this break in excitement is redeemed by the excellent two last songs: “Knee Socks”, which swings with attitude thanks to biting guitar and reverb-enhanced backing harmonies, and the slow building closer, “I Wanna Be Yours”. AM finishes with the same swagger it began with.
AM, for what it’s worth, continues to prove that the Arctic Monkeys are able to assimilate diverse influences while still sounding original. While not as immediately satisfying as past albums, the album works best when listened to in chunks. After five albums, the Arctic Monkeys still have something to prove, even though their greatest work might be behind them.