Few bands are bound by their past quite like Arctic Monkeys. Despite releasing three critically acclaimed records since ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ back in 2006, everything they produce is still compared to ‘that’ debut, whether it’s a man in the pub telling you “They’ve forgotten their roots, their too American now” or some anonymous bedroom-dweller saying “They just don’t write songs like ‘Mardy Bum’ anymore” on a YouTube comment thread at 3am on a Wednesday. Needless to say, no matter how many leather jackets/mohair suits they buy (or the amount of tumblr blogs that are made about Turner’s hair alone) there’s always going to be people who see them as the band that performed on Jools Holland in jumpers and ill-fitting jeans all those years ago, and somehow expect everything about that era to return with each release, despite the fact they’ve now left High Green, Sheffield for Los Angeles, to live next door to Josh Homme and ride motorcycles around all day (don’t act like you wouldn’t do that yourself).
A point that is perhaps overlooked by many though, is the calculated, rational sense of development that has bled through each of their albums so far, whether it’s the desert-rock foundations of Humbug or the starry-eyed idealism of Suck It And See, and one gets the feeling that without the stark contrasts within their previous material, Arctic Monkeys’ long awaited fifth record would feel lost and unfulfilling.
Built around dark romanticism, AM is a late night, leather clad addition to Arctic Monkeys’ arsenal, the sound of a band embracing everything they’ve done right so far, and pushing it into deeper territories.
Seductive opener ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ perhaps best embodies this newfound depth, and establishes the record’s lustful mindset, Turner’s lyrics and slick delivery resembling an elongated chat-up line over effortlessly resonant guitars and handclaps. In a recent interview Turner remarked that this ‘clap’ was recorded using their other body parts, and mixed to “make it sound like someone banging their head against a sci-fi force-field”, which summarizes the sound of the album rather justly, as a series of complex nuances masquerade under the guise of simplicity throughout. There are moments of course that are much less subtle, as the beefier reworking of ‘R U Mine?’ hits like an airhorn to your ear drums, no doubt standing as Monkeys’ most instrumentally intense track since Matt Helders had to take up boxing to play the drums on ‘Brianstorm’.
A mix of astronomic imagery and sentimentality travels throughout the record, most openly in ‘Arabella’, a Barbarella referencing suave explosion built upon glam rock foundations, which further sees Turner’s generation defining lyricism come into its own, as he purrs “It’s an exploration she’s made of outer space, and her lips are like the galaxy’s edge, and her kiss the color of a constellation falling into place”. The development of the newly quiffed frontman’s lyrical wit is one of the most outstanding aspects of this record, and magnifies Turner’s transition in the last seven years, from a snapshot of British adolescence into the modern man, embodying a resourceful mix of confidence and insecurity to create an overwhelmingly mature sound, as he seemingly continues his quest for the ultimate woman. Remarkably, Turner’s wordplay is more resonant on faster paced tracks like ‘Fireside’, ‘One For The Road’ and the drunk-text based ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ rather than the nostalgic, balladic moments that fill the middle of the record. Nevertheless, ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ and ‘Mad Sounds’ provide some romance to counteract the lustful darkness, and are filled with reverb laden chiming guitars, montage worthy melodies and the ‘shoo wops’ that were prominent in Suck It And See, which when put in the context of the rest of AM finely plays up to Monkeys’ steadily increasing wisdom.
Of course some tracks play better to their new aesthetic than others, as the likes of ‘Snap Out Of It’ and ‘I Want It All’ fail to cover new ground and seem somewhat defunct, though these are more trivial complaints than full-blown issues, and more the case that they don’t live up to the high bar set through the string of future singles that dominate the rest of the album.
It is at the end of AM however that Arctic Monkeys really embody what they have grown into, as the closing tracks stand as a testament to their ability to craft increasingly resonant material. A breakdown at the end of ‘Knee Socks’ is perhaps their finest moment, as the rest of the band (and honorary member Josh Homme) chant in falsetto “You and me could have been a team, each had a half of a king and queen seat. Like the beginning of Mean Streets, you could be my baby” whilst Turner croons through a gloriously retro distorted fuzz. ‘I Want It All’ isn’t the grand ending we’ve come to expect from their previous material, as a slow, subdued R&B beat that wouldn’t be left off Blood Orange’s forthcoming album resonates like a heartbeat with Turner reciting a poem from John Cooper Clarke about “Leccy bills” and “Ford Cortinas“, yet then again this record is a complete upheaval of what to expect from the four piece in the first place, which is what makes going into the album with an open mind so important.
Presenting a nostalgic perspective of love, peppered with lust and modern grit, this record has seen Arctic Monkeys go deeper than ever before, which leaves us with the feeling that AM is their most vital album to date, and the sign of a band finally maturing into an aesthetic they’ve purveyed for years.