One of Britain’s most popular rock bands going at the minute, the Arctic Monkeys are back, with their fifth album, ‘AM’, full of scuzzy guitar riffs, falsetto vocals and songs fit for the arenas they regularly tour. The 41-minute album isn’t any massive breakthrough for the Sheffield band though, perhaps edging them more towards the mainstream, especially with singles like, ‘Do I Wanna?’, a recent chart success.
It’s with the cutting riff and stomping drum beat of the aforementioned single that the album starts, and it has certainly grown on me since its initial release. Another previously released song appears next, ‘R U Mine?’. It’s weird as this has been out for a good year or so, yet is in its original format, with no updates. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great track, but as the second on a supposedly ‘brand new’ album…it just feels a bit lazy, especially when a passionate fan will want to hear truly brand new material, not this 2012 song.
Next though, finally some brand new songs! ‘One For The Road’, is another that features heavy falsetto backing vocals. Even at just three songs in, it does feel as though this active choice to include them, is ruining each song’s originality. With their inclusion, it is pretty difficult to distinguish between each song…poor considering the Arctic’s back catalogue is all fairly differing in style. As for the actual song itself, it sounds fairly raw and a little bit psychedelic, belonging in the 60’s/70’s, echoing back to the last album, ‘Suck it and See’. It’s pretty sluggish to begin with, and as I said, the falsetto’s can drag after a bit, but it’s the guitar riff that cuts in halfway through that saves it from being truly bad, elevating it to a step above.
‘Arabella’, is a bit of a mess. Lacking any sort of coherency, with riffs and crashing symbols getting in the way of each other, it sounds like it was written on the spot, a rushed track for sure. Turner’s voice even sounds a bit strained, with the bridged lyrics, ‘My days end best when the sunset gets itself behind/That little lady sitting on the passenger side’,not suiting him one bit. Sounds a bit of a half-arsed attempt at being ‘heavy’, something Turner should probably leave to his Queens of the Stone Age mate, Josh Homme.
Carrying on similar vibes is ‘I Want It All’, a song that flows more naturally than its predecessor even with the strange floaty vocals. The driving drums and guitar riffs, this time working together in harmony are what propels the track forward, the vocals taking a distinct back seat. It’s a short slice of guitar-laden rock though which goes down well.
With a title reminiscent of the legends of crap-pop, L.M.F.A.O, that is the closest link ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’, has to the ridiculously named Redfoo and SkyBlu. No, the name is a bit ironic, as the song is the slowest on the record yet, with nice echoes of David Bowie during his Ziggy phase. Infact it is very 60’s, with pianos, a fantastic acoustic guitar and a tambourine! It confirms any suspicions you may have that lead singer Alex Turner is actually from the 1960’s. Whilst the chorus’ lyrics may be out of touch with the rest of the song, lyrically it is my favourite thus far. I was actually prepared to say that the first half of the album has been a disappointment, but this song, coming directly at the halfway point shakes things up, and you literally don’t know what to expect next!
What we do get is a continuation of the vibes of ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’. ‘Mad Sounds’, is a chilled out track, which also brings back the favoured tambourine! I can even hear a few organs and a choir of some sorts in there too, you really do have to remind yourself at times that this is an Arctic Monkeys record. The pace is picked up a touch with ‘Fireside’, a never-ending drum beat proving the solid base the rest of the song launches from, and with only some distorted backing vocals, this is a song lacking falsettos, again, Hallelujah! A squealing guitar riff inevitably follows the acoustics of the beginning, but its all very timely and reeks of 70’s influences as the synths also take hold during the latter half of the song.
Then another single, this time, ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’, a song I disliked at first, but it’s a grower of some sorts, weird music video permitting. It’s certainly not my favourite track on the album though, for it is a bit of a rambler again, with familiar drum beats, and Turner’s voice returning to its, at times, boring old tones. This could’ve been on any of the last couple of records if I’m completely honest, only attempting to meld some of the melancholic sounds of the second half of, ‘AM’, later on. And the chorus is lyrically bad. Just saying.
Well falsettos make another return in ‘Snap Out of It’, pretty much condemning it to the middle of the road track it is. Again, there are some nice ideas in here, the funky percussion, the differing drum patterns, but the culmination of it all, doesn’t amount to anything too enjoyable. It’s a bit of a Beady Eye-eque mess, an attempt at some Beatles rock. I didn’t like it! ‘Knee Socks’ doesn’t start brilliantly, yet more high-pitched backing vocals, but then Turner takes charge and it becomes bearable. And the vocals eventually come into their own in the chorus, with a nice bassline supporting, it hits ‘the sweet spot’.
Closer, ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, sees a more relaxed vibe kick off the track, until a backing gospel choir join the party. That being said, it eventually peters out, nothing really coming about of the track, a shame given that I would’ve expected a riotous ending to this mixed bag of an album. Still it attempts to combine ideas, like the choir, the drums, the basslines, but sadly, to not much positive effect.
An album of two distinct halves, the first sounding like the left overs of ‘Suck it and See’, and the latter half feeling more like a solid successor, with new sounds experimented mixed with the old. You wonder just how much of this influence was Alex Turner’s, and whether or not he will be tempted to break away and do some solo material, something he experimented with on the soundtrack to 2010 Brit film, ‘Submarine’, as acclaimed a set of songs as there’ll ever be.
On the whole, the album seems like it missed the mark. There are a bunch of wild ideas here, but with no end goal, it’s difficult to truly ‘love’the album. That is, of course, unless you love the released singles, in which case, the album should be to your tastes. I didn’t hate the album, just was disappointed, yet it is something I will give a good few listens too, the first listen is rarely ever the best. This all being said, I’d still love to see them some day, and wouldn’t be adverse to them headlining somewhere like Reading & Leeds next year! The Arctic’s still have a lot going for them, but are yet to reach their ‘seminal’ album, the one that takes them to the higher echelons of guitar music, something that will have the Sheffield band rated amongst the true greats forever.
Check out the iTunes stream now for yourself and comment below on your opinion of the Arctic’s new album! Could they headline Reading & Leeds, T in the Park or even the Isle of Wight festivals 2014 on the back of it?