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It was the most parroted lazy comparison of the 21st century: The Next Beatles. The Fab Four reincarnated as sarcastic teenagers spitting out witty jibes with unforgiving Northern inflection. The generation gap of the 60s had come again, because whatever it was that was going on in those 13-songs on Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, your parents were bound to hate it (or embarrassingly pretend they liked it). John, Paul, George and Ringo – step aside. Meet Alex Turner and…the rest of his band.
Of course anyone with more sense than the popular music press (which is most people, in fact) knows that bands are never “reborn” and placing any expectation on the up-and-comers of the 21st century to record another Pet Sounds or Nevermind is ludicrous and pathetic. Can’t we just enjoy the music that comes out today for what it is without needing to cast the shadows of the Rolling Stones’ Top 100 Albums of All Time on every up and comer? The truth of the matter is that there won’t be another Beatles. The technological revolution of the 1990s (still continuing to this day, in case you hadn’t noticed) has made music so completely ubiquitous a product and colossal an industry that the likelihood of the entire western consciousness being once again fixated on a group of lads singing little ditties is highly unlikely. The band history of The Beatles is written in ink describing grimy clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg. The Arctic Monkeys’ history is projected from computer screens describing their grass roots ascension on MySpace and MP3.com. Get used to it, folks.
That said, the fascination with the 1960s still looms large amongst today’s musicians and Arctic Monkeys demonstrate on Suck It And See that they’re no exception to the cliché. Gorgeous melodies, jangling guitars, energetic live studio performances. All of them make exceptionally well-executed appearances on Arctic Monkeys 4th album and create up a rich, organic set of pop rock songs that would be approaching cloying were it not for Alex Turners metaphor-laden, obscure, just this side of pretentious lyrics. The decision to record songs as live takes with minimal overdubs is a particularly welcome aspect of the album, meaning it sounds more like a collection of performances from accomplished musicians playing their hearts out rather than a series of disembodied take threes piled on top of each other (The Strokes, take note).
Whether or not you like Suck It And See depends on to what extent you’re expecting Arctic Monkeys to revisit the largely unambiguous, witty songs about drunkenly firing off e-mails to ex-girlfriends and settling for one night stands with fake-tan laden slappers. There is a vocal and angry segment of Monkeys fans who were bitterly disappointed by 2009’s Humbug and are eagerly anticipating a return of the likely lads from Sheffield. Unfortunately for them, those expecting a return to the no-nonsense musical chronicle of working class Britain on their first two albums are going to be left wanting (although the lyric “Do the macarena in the devil’s lair” does sound suspiciously like it’s describing The Carleton). Fans who expect a progression and maturation from the critically acclaimed, sometimes difficult and obscure Humbug are going to find a well-executed arrangement of indie pop perfectly timed for the summer festival season. Those after the raw, undisciplined, maniacal approach of the first two albums are probably going to be left wanting.
Lyrically speaking, Suck It And See deals with, for the most part, well-trodden themes of a young man gripped in the throes of love at first sight. Lines like “Topless models doing semaphore wave their flags as she walks by and get ignored” and “your kiss, it could put creases in the rain” are indicative of the kind of style adopted on the record’s many odes to a (presumably) young woman. Sure, Turner isn’t the first songwriter to say his girl is the greatest, but lyrical idiosyncrasies like “That’s not a skirt girl, that’s a sawn-off shotgun / And I can only hope you’ve got it aimed at me” stop the otherwise trite and banal sentiment from becoming cringe-worthy chintz. If you are someone who can understand why a songwriter who only five years ago sang “What do you know? You don’t know nothing / Yeah, but I’d still take you home” is now crooning with self-conscious affection over his One True Love then pick up a copy of Suck It And See. If you still wish Turner, a platinum-selling rock star who is more than likely a millionaire, would write a song insisting that he’s still Jenny From The Bloc, then there are plenty of other cash cows out there to tickle your fancy.
Is Suck It And See a classic, then? Well, no – it isn’t. But it is a highly polished, well-executed display of original, yet familiar feeling songs by a band increasingly eager to demonstrate their credibility and maturity. Where their first two albums established Turner as a lyricist and Humbug as a brooding arranger of complex psychedelic indie, Suck It And See showcases a keen grasp of melody and standard pop form, the highlight of which being the title track itself, which features a gorgeous melody with an intriguing lyric and a warm, richly harmonised chorus. Whereas most bands like to demonstrate their “progression” by simply throwing a synth and drum machine into the mix, Arctic Monkeys have disarmingly gone back to basics and produced what is possibly the best pop album of this year so far.