Five albums in, and The Arctic Monkeys are no longer the cheeky new scamps on the block (although I couldn’t help noticing that they recently still passed for what the dailymash considers to be “young persons music”) invading a nation’s musical conscious from underneath and within. Back in 2006 a guerilla gigs and internet releases campaign resulted in the fastest ever selling debut British album. Clearly, many believed the hype: should that belief hold firm this far down the line?
AM sees them going all slinky and west coast; as un-Sheffield as you could imagine. But that’s ok. In fact it’s a healthy progression: the question of what to moan about when you’ve actually made it and can’t moan about not having made it yet has beaten many an artist before them. The Arctic Monkeys’ response is to replace grubby and dirty with something that’s shiny and glossy. It’s still dirty, but from the sleaze of the night before, not the grime and regret of the morning after. Perhaps Alex Turner’s assorted non-Arctic projects (Last Shadow Puppets, film soundtracks) are a fast-track away from getting stuck in that rut.
The tracks that crawled out before the album’s release (“Do I Wanna Know?”, “R U Mine?”, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”) each ask a question. All could be answered a youthful thrustful lustfulness? Excuse me, but it’s all getting too much for this all man. It’s all the leather and latex swinging around in here – a feeling that carries over into the glam crunch and stomp of “Snap Out Of It” and “I Want it All”. ‘Space age / country girl / stone cold / miracle’, Alex Turner sings, as if thumbing through his 70s rock thesaurus (The Jeff Becktionary?). Meanwhile, “Arabella’s got a seventies head… she’s made of outer space, and her lips are like the galaxy’s edge” (turns out Turner also owns a space rocktionary), and while he doesn’t come right out and say it, it’s clear she’s also Turner’s cherry pie.
The slower moments on AM are seductive alright. A twin-set pops up mid-album: on “Mad Sounds”, Turner grows a meaty pair of sideburns, and croons to the photo of Richard Hawley he keeps in a locket, while “No. 1 Party Anthem” features calls of “Come on come on come on” with all the enthusiasm of a sad-eyed romantic. It’s no party, and no anthem, but a pursuit, through the clubs and VIP lounges and “drunken monlogues, confused because it’s not like i’m falling in love. I just want you to do me no good, and you look like you could.”
AM ends with “I Wanna Be Yours”, and lines borrowed from John Cooper-Clarke:
I wanna be your vacuum cleaner / ford cortina / leccy meter…
One of the joys of The Arctic Monkeys has always been the way Turner’s phrasing and vocal lines entwine with the melody, refusing to be constrained, always running, spilling over. On AM, this flow abounds, even if at times the lines appear to bleed into each other, while the sound has opened up and cleaned up. It’s not the 10/10 clusterbomb of an album the NME seems to think it is, but it’s by no means a mid-career lull either.
(As an aside, this review was written two years ago when AM was released, but I never quite got round to publishing it at the time. Having read it, perhaps you’re thinking “yeah, I get that”.)