As a proud son of Sheffield (well, a graduate of the university at least) I was pretty excited to get stuck into the new album from the Arctic Monkeys – AM. This is the band’s fifth studio album and as usual, it has been greeted with critical acclaim, including a Mercury Music prize for Best Album. Since their debut the boys have continued to set the bar higher and higher and are comfortably hitting the mark of commercial success with ease.
I’ve always felt like I was in on the ground floor with the Arctic Monkeys; the release of their debut album coincided with my own time living in Sheffield, and the band really became a significant part of the soundtrack to my uni days. I feel there is a real transformative power in the vocals and lyrics from that original album and in the music they have released since. As we have become accustomed to, there are real gems of lyrical genius to be found on almost every track. Alex Turner’s colloquial romantic poetry from the north of England translates surprisingly well to a wide audience, and the descriptive tales of people and place have a real resonance for me, and I can’t help but imagine the characters on a rainy day in Crooks or Hilsborough.
The album is something of a mixed bag of styles; the band’s home turf of indie rock runs throughout, but there are definitely elements of hard(er) rock, some blues and a hint of psychedelia, which is a new element I particularly enjoyed. Tracks such as ‘Arabella’ feel really fresh and show an interesting twist in the band’s progression. I was reminded of tracks from the likes of Tame Impala, MGMT, and maybe even a touch of the Beach Boys in the sampling and instrumentals, plus moments of Hendrix-esque guitar were a real highlight for me. This album has a Californian feel at times, with a contrast of styles and context that surprises, but really grows on you after a few listens.
The album has a certain pace to it – it is steady and controlled throughout, with the tone set firmly with the opening track ‘Do I Wanna Know’. This is a strong, solid collection a music; a house made of bricks (old yellow ones presumably). This well paced style has been a growing element over the last 2 or 3 albums, and while I really enjoy it, I can’t help but miss the furious speed and breathless, angry vocals of the band’s earlier efforts. Turner’s voice is a huge point of difference for the Arctic Monkeys, and I think he gets better when you can hear the effort exerted and the gasping for air at the end of a verse (try ‘Look Good on the Dance Floor’, ‘Fake Tales of San Fran’, etc). There’s a bit of a reliance on some ghosty backing vocals here (particularly in ‘Knee Socks)’, and I think they could do without it. Let the lead singer do what he does best.
From most other bands this album would be right up there, but I have pretty high expectations when it comes to these guys. I did really enjoy it and I can see it growing on me in time, but I wouldn’t say this was the Arctic Monkeys at their very best. AM is a good solid album that moves in a slightly different direction than previous releases, but unfortunately it’s not an essential.