by Declan Welsh
Arctic Monkeys have grown up. In AM, they have completed the transition from sneering teenage prodigies to the rightful kings of modern British guitar music. They are not the boys betting you to look good on the dancefloor anymore; that innocent game of young courtship is over; AM is an album about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And it sounds damn good.
The main difference between Arctic Monkeys and other bands that played simple, exciting, anthemic music for the people is that Alex Turner writes for himself. This means that if he wants to go away and make a dark, heavy album with no real singles and no mention of “Top Shop Princesses” or “trackie bottoms, tucked in socks”; he will. And if he wants to write a shimmering guitar pop album laden with beautiful, cryptic lyrics; he will. Therefore, unlike a Noel Gallagher or Pete Doherty figure, fans of Turner’s song writing can never be certain in what package the Sheffield son’s music will be presented.
People who complain about a band seeking to expand their musical horizons though, are the same kind of people who scream when Wonderwall comes on in nightclubs; and their opinions should be roundly discarded. What the real issue with Humbug and Suck It And See is; is that while both are very good albums in their own right, few would argue that either is a significant improvement on the band’s first pair of brash, in your face, indie rock LPs. AM, however, is.
If a “Best of Arctic Monkeys” album were commissioned today, all but one track in this album would be in serious contention for a place. ‘‘R U Mine’’ is as good as any rock single released in the last ten years; ‘‘Do I Wanna Know’’ is four minutes and thirty three seconds of sexy, heavy, pounding music unlike anything the band have ever done; ‘Arabella’ is arguably the best song on the album; ‘‘Knee Socks’’ is everything good about Humbug made better; ‘‘No.1 Party Anthem’’ is Alex Turner channelling John Lennon and that is – though quite hard to fathom – better than it sounds.
I could describe every song – other than the decent filler track “I Want It All” – in similarly gushing terms. It is the best album they could possibly have made at this point in their career. To draw another comparison between Messrs. Lennon and Turner; the Beatle once said that he didn’t want to be playing “She Loves You” when he was 30. Alex Turner, as much as many would like to think otherwise, had to move on from being a working class kid from Sheffield writing great songs about not getting into nightclubs. Honesty is the mark of the great songwriter. Now Alex Turner is a multi-millionaire musician living out of a tour bus, writing great introspective songs about love, sex, people and parties. In ‘Despair In The Departure Lounge’, an early B-Side, Turner says “It seems as we become the winners, we lose a bit of something; and half wonder if we won it at all”. This entire album, whilst a musical departure, retains the sense of alienation that defines the Arctic Monkeys. Before, they observed the foibles of everyday life; now, they sing of yearning for something in a materialistic world. The sardonic delivery of the chorus “Come on, come on, come on. Before the moment’s gone; Number one party anthem” is a testament to this. Arctic Monkeys may be sporting teddy boy haircuts and cool tattoos; but they are, at their core, the same band who sang of “Fake Tales of San Francisco”. It’s just “Real Tales of New York City” now.
So listen to the album. It’s about as close to perfect as it is possible for the Arctic Monkeys to get at this point. Is it better than “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”? That’s entirely subjective; but, certainly, a case is to be made that, in AM, Arctic Monkeys have just released their greatest work.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);