Arctic Monkeys – AM
“We’re Arctic Monkeys, this is ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.’ Don’t believe the hype.”
That was Alex Turner eight years ago, youthful and possibly inebriated, imploring potential listeners to not buy into the media frenzy surrounding his Arctic Monkeys before launching into an explosive version of their first hit. Eight years and four critically-acclaimed albums later, it’s time to start believing the hype.
AM, the Monkeys’ fifth album, finds the band once again venturing off into unexplored territories, similar to 2009’s Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) produced Humbug. However, where that album sometimes buckled under the weight of its own expansiveness, on AM, the band finds a near-perfect balance of songcraft and experimentation, proving that experimentation doesn’t necessarily equate to a drop-off in quality.
Nowhere on the album is this more apparent than on the opening salvo of “Do I Wanna Know?”, with its stomping beat and Herculean guitar riff, and “RU Mine?”, which finds the band firing into overdrive while Turner finds himself mired in the mind games his woman likes to play. Personally, I have yet to hear a better opening one-two punch this year; these are definite album highlights.
Prior to the album’s release, Turner, frontman and lyricist, was quick to identify hip hop as a major influence on the record. “I want it to sound like a Dr. Dre beat, but we’ve given it an Ike Turner haircut and sent it galloping across the desert on a Stratocaster.” The hip hip influence is everywhere on the album, from the sinewy rhythm on third single “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” to early album highlights “Arabella” and “One For the Road.” “Arabella” also features some deft wordplay from Turner, who has proven himself to be one of the greatest alt-rock lyricists of the past decade. “Arabella’s got some interstellagator skin boots.” Who thinks of that stuff?
The Monkeys have always been good at wit and irony, so it should be no surprise that “No. 1 Party Anthem” is not a companion piece to “Dancefloor”. Rather, it is a gorgeous ballad that deals with Turner’s desire to go out and get hurt: “It’s not like I’m falling in love, I just want you to do me no good/And you look like you could.” Coupled with “Mad Sounds”, an apparent send-up of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”, these songs mark the midpoint of the album beautifully.
AM ends with “I Wanna Be Yours” continues the Monkeys’ penchant for stunning album closers. Turner sets poet John Cooper Clarke’s lyrics to a haunting melody, his honeyed croon making the phrase “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner breathing in your dust” the most romantic personification of a vacuum cleaner that there ever was. It is truly a stunning end to the record.
AM brilliantly marks another point in the band’s already illustrious career: they have established themselves as true artists. Their next album will undoubtedly be markedly different from this one; revealing why they have never wavered from making quality music. The listener never knows what they are going to get, but they always know it’s going to be good.
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