The continuing evolution of Arctic Monkeys from precocious teens (whose astonishing début Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not chronicled the highs and lows of adolescence so perfectly) into their latest iteration in AM as sharply-dressed, perfectly coiffured rockstars has seen the odd misstep along the way. If we’re completely honest with ourselves (and why not, by now we’re all friends here) Arctic Monkeys haven’t made a truly great record since 2007’s underrated Favourite Worst Nightmare; since then we’ve had the promising but patchy Humbug and Suck It And See. Well… it sucked.
Kicking off with real display of intent – the stomping, slick, garage rock-funk of outstanding singles “Do I Wanna Know?” and “R U Mine?” – it quickly becomes apparent that frontman Alex Turner’s suggestion that this record draws from influences as varied as Dr. Dre and Black Sabbath wasn’t as outlandish as it may have seemed. Both tracks pulse and throb with a groove fuelled by an intoxicating, and indeed intoxicated, sexuality; the insecurity and lust that accompany the uncertainties of a love affair. Potent stuff indeed, and a recurrent theme throughout AM‘s twelve tracks, not least on most recent single “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”, which recalls the kind of slinky, sordid tale fellow Sheffield native Jarvis Cocker might have spun for Pulp circa 1998’s This Is Hardcore. A striking feature of this trio of singles, and indeed AM as a whole, is the Arctic’s razor sharp rhythm section. Matt Helders and Nick O’Malley, whose tight, hip-hop inspired playing underpins the entire record, adding swagger and the touch of paranoid menace prevalent on several tracks.
Yet, for all the pulse and throb, it can never be denied that Alex Turner is anything other than a frustrated romantic. AM finds the talented songwriter in uncertain mood, trying his level best to negotiate the world he now inhabits, yet feeling a certain mistrust of those with whom he is romantically involved. In this vein, “No.1 Party Anthem” is perhaps one of the most mature and world-weary songs Turner has written thus far. Almost serving as a companion piece to “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” from the début album, “No.1 Party Anthem” finds the narrator a million miles away from the excitable, wide-eyed, hormonal stream of consciousness of the former. The piano-led, AOR arrangement and laconic lyrical delivery speaks of a jaded young man, burned by past experiences and going through the motions, playing the role of the rock star. The “dirty dancefloors and dreams of naughtiness” have been replaced by the painful familiarity of “lights on the floors, sweat on the walls, cages and poles”.
AM is, without doubt, everything that Humbug promised but didn’t quite deliver. Riffs, hooks, cracking songs. An instant classic, and a stonking return to form from Yorkshire’s finest. One of 2013’s essential albums, and one the very best rock records in recent years. [subscribe2]