Review: Arctic Monkeys – ‘AM’
By naming their latest record AM, Arctic Monkeys have done more than given homage to Velvet Underground’s 1985 release. AM is when this album should be listened to, past midnight, when lights are low and moods are high. Pulsing beats, groovy bass lines, and reverb ridden guitars are all beautifully held together by Alex Turners clever rhetoric. Yet there’s a point where all parties begin to fizzle, the hours drag and you start to sober up. ‘AM’ suffers the same fate.
Digital claps and chugging guitars welcome us. ‘Do I wanna know?’ portrays a clear message. This is Arctic Monkeys but not as we knew them. Gone are the indie club classics of ‘Whatever people say I am’, yet so too is the stoner rock vibe that began to creep into ‘suck it and see’. Here the boys from Sheffield are showing their new skin. Smooth, but as sharp as a knife edge. At times there is an atmosphere akin to the XX, albeit, with a sledgehammer in tow. Crunchy guitars and haunting falsetto add more than enough oomph to remind us who we’re dealing with.
No more is this true than in One for the road and Arabella. Here we find the boys at their best. Turner’s witty lyrics run off the tongue as strings flutter alongside huge bass and beastly drum kicks. The Influence of Hip-hop is more than apparent. There’s a lot of freedom to remix and there’s certain to be a few cropping up on Sound cloud in the coming months.
Arabella follows the same vein, with some Black Sabbath sprinkled to the mix. Classic hard rock mixed with Hip-Hop could have gone one way or another, but they manage to succeed where others have failed. The result is something ferocious but sexy as hell.
Yet from here on in things begin to falter. After the explosiveness of Arabella, I want it all fails to deliver. No doubt the track is a grower, but the tempos slowed too much, things start to dwindle. If this were a time in the night it’d be 3 am. The big beats have dropped, everyone’s a bit too messed up to talk and you need a breather in the garden.
As we enter the latter half of the album and the ballads come out, things come to a standstill. Whilst No. 1 party anthem has the trippy nature someone like Bowie could win worlds with, Turner’s vocals feel out of place. This stays true with Mad sounds. Witty spoken verse works well elsewhere, but Turner most certainly isn’t a crooner. The Oooh la la’s that appear ‘out of nowhere’ come as a pleasant surprise, but also as a relief. The quartet try something out of their comfort zone, but it falls just short.
The decision to include R U Mine also leaves eyebrows raised. Although in the same vein as some of the heavier tracks, the years distance in release time shows its age. It comes across as what it was, a track written in transition. It feels like it has just been stuck on as filler.
Yet the energy finally returns with the hypnotic beats and enticing synth at the end of Fire side saving a track that could have suffered the same fate. Then finally, that sexiness returns. Why’d you only call me when you’re high? is a much needed wake up. The party is back on. ‘Snap out of it’ is certain to be a crowd pleaser and comes as an unexpected pleasure. The crying out at the chorus, the pounding piano and screaming guitar make it impossible not to tap your feet and shout along. The faltered unity of old and new in the ballads is given more than good justice here.
When Knee socks comes around there’s a sense of closure. Josh Homme’s contribution makes for a lovely added bit of depth to a solid finisher. The only issue is the lyrics from which the song takes its title. They add awkwardness to a chorus that was close to being catchy.
This desire for quirkiness and witticism is ultimately what leads to the albums final downfall: I wanna be yours standing out as the weakest track by a long run. What could be something out of a Tarantino movie steadily becomes another lacklustre ballad. Adapted from a poem by John Cooper Clark, with lines like ‘I want to be your elecy meter’ it’s tough to see whether Turner is being serious or silly. Either way the damage is done. The party is over. It’s 6 am, the furniture’s been robbed and all that’s left is your sort-of-mate Gazza and a couple of people you have never met talking about conspiracy theories in the garden.
The album could have finished on ‘snap out of it’ and ended with a bang. But the boys haven’t listened to their own words. Instead they’ve ignored the sensible ones and kept clubbing till the sun’s up, things have gone a bit weird and now they have got to grab a mega bus.