Arctic Monkeys ‘AM’ – ALBUM REVIEW

For many the Arctic Monkeys will always be that skinny bunch of teenagers singing about girls on a dance floor. Indeed the video for their debut single beautifully captures the very essence of what it’s like to be young and discovering rock and roll; cockiness, attitude, energy and banging tunes. Following up that piece of pop gold with the fastest selling debut album of all time wasn’t bad going either and as the band hit the stratosphere all that was left was to see where they would go from there.

With many fans hoping for more of the same ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ came as something of a shock. The album came with a much harder edge and for the majority was devoid of the arm around your mate, sing-along chorus of the first. Whilst this no doubt lost a large chunk of Capital FM listeners, an equal number of vinyl playing musos sat up and realised there was more to this band than they had first thought.

Fast forward 7 years and Arctic Monkeys sit comfortably at the top of the pile of current British bands.  All of the contemporaries who could possibly rival them at the beginning of their career have now gone tits up, had a meltdown or had pigeons shit on them from a great height. Following up their opening brace with 2 excellent but flawed albums in ‘Humbug’ (2009) and then ‘Suck it and See’ (2011) it has been refreshing to see a band oozing with confidence with a will to push the boundaries and experiment with their sound.

Earlier in the year Daft Punk set a new standard in marketing strategies when releasing their latest album. And whilst high profile ads, teasers, tie ins and whatever else paid off handsomely for the French duo the Arctic Monkeys have managed to create their own whirl wind of anticipation with a much more traditional approach to promotion. Their secret? Putting out a smattering of absolute grade A, pure as the driven snow, inject into your ears and sink into you carpet, songs with little fanfare and watching as the punters roll in. Once the junkies got hooked the tongues started wagging and have left a nation queuing up at the musical methadone clinic waiting on their next hit.

By now you will probably be familiar with the opening two tracks from ‘AM’, ‘Do You Wanna Know’ and ‘RU Mine’. Both are built around huge guitar riffs and bigger drum fills that will have seen your steering wheel take a beating over recent months. In both, Turner tackles his favourite topics of desire, lust and unrequited yearning. Any doubts that chief Monkey may have lost his lyrical majesty are dispelled within the opening number as he pleads  “I’ve been wondering if your heart’s still open, and if so I wanna know what time it shuts” whilst playfully adding “simmer down and pucker up”.

In the presser rounds the band have carried out much talk centred around “the ones that sound like Dr Dre”. Thankfully any link to the North Korea of music that was early millennium Rap-Rock is dismissed immediately upon the G funk inspired magic that is ‘Why Do You Only Call When You’re High’. The sexy funked up single is the Monkeys at their best whilst ‘One for the Road’ manages to sound like, I shit you not, Mary J Blige’s ‘Family Affair’. The smooth and sultry number tells the story of going back to a girl’s flat so he can get ‘one for the road’. With the exception of the guitar solo towards the end you could fully expect to hear in a club where ‘twerking’ is permitted. You can practically smell the post coital ciggie as it fades out.

With ‘Arabella’ you could be forgiven for thinking you’re listening to a coda of ‘One for the Road’ with its similar crisp bass and driven beat, albeit at a slower pace. Again there is an obvious hip hop influence but just when you are thinking about letting your trousers hang a little lower than normal, Pete Townshend windmills in a power cord that jerks you to attention and sets you off on a mission to reclaim the original meaning of the term R&B. The end result is a joyous collage of all things good about music.

The Monkeys affair with what I’m going to christen R&G (rock and G Funk if you’re interested) is rounded up on penultimate track ‘Knee Socks’ with more use of drummer Matt Helder’s and bassist Nick O’Malley’s high pitched harmonising to create some true blued eyed soul swagger.

Ending the album is Turner’s take on a John Cooper Clarke poem, ‘I Wanna Be Yours’. The choice of Clarke is no surprise; he is a clear influence on The Arctic Monkeys to the extent that it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if he had been penning lyrics for the Monkeys since day one. Turner makes the words his own, croaking through the kitchen sink poetry of the verse before repeating the spine tingling mantra of the chorus. It’s a beautiful song, one that on its conclusion, you sit in the now deafening silence for a short while just thinking of…….. well, I’ll let you see where your mind goes.

‘AM’ is not without criticism however. The middle section of the album takes an unexpected turn for the worst. ‘Mad Sounds’ owes more than a debt to ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ and for all the Stones-esque ooh la las it’s not the classic that it strives for, whilst ‘Fireside’ offers nothing other than to wonder why recent B side ‘Stop the World, I Wanna Get Off With You’ was omitted in its place.

Anyone who caught the Arctic Monkeys Glastonbury set would have seen a band brimming with confidence and that shines through on the majority of ‘AM’. The genre pushing hip hop inspired tracks are extraordinary and show up every band that has ever been tipped as ‘the future sound of music’. However the enormity of these tracks cast such a shadow over the remaining numbers that they end up sounding sonically black and white by comparison.

Christopher Harvey