One would do well to remember Alex Turner’s prophetic lyricism on the ironically titled EP Who The **** Are Arctic Monkeys? “But we’ll stick to the guns, Don’t care if it’s marketing suicidal, Won’t crack or compromise.” If they were well known back in 2006, their fame has now superseded all cautious estimations. Thus, each change in sound is even more risky, whether it disturbs the core of their fan-base or those on the periphery. AM is another one of these changes, albeit not as drastic or frightening to synthetic fans as Humbug was –praised by critics, but loathed by some of my contemporaries.
This fifth embarkation mixes a concoction of various musical influences; from old, classic rock & roll (incidentally, Alex Turner is looking more and more like Elvis) to contemporary hip-hop. The latter sound is evident on songs such as ‘Why’d Do You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ and ‘One For The Road’. This expansive recipe serves up some tasty tracks, but the piece as a whole is held back by others which one might call analogous to a typically uninspiring university meal. ‘I Want It All’, ‘Snap Out Of It’ and ‘Knee Socks’ are the three which most criminally fall into this unfortunate category. How lucky we are that those final two are proceeded by the wondrous ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ – a cover of John Cooper Clarke’s beautiful poem.
One would expect a decent finished article to contain at least five very enjoyable tunes – this is something that AM achieves (just). Therefore, we can safely define it as a good album. But it falls short of being very good – an accolade I’d bestow on all previous albums. AM reaches melodic heights with the previously mentioned ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ and ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’, a song which sees Turner crooning like a truly genuine 1950s American pop-rock sensation. ‘Arabella’ mixes elements of hip-hop and hard rock – watch out for the brief but most certainly not undiluted guitar solo. ‘Fireside’ is the charmer; a track which is sure to appeal to most ears. ‘R U Mine?’, however lazy it may have been to attach it to the album, rounds off my five-enjoyable-tracks requirement. ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, ‘Mad Sounds’ and ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ are tinged with mediocrity – though the latter may be a favourite because of its decidedly forthright chorus.
Turner has not lost much of his lyrical sharpness, choosing to merge the precocious witticism of their first two releases with the vagueness and maturity of Humbug and Suck It And See. To simply classify the lyrics in this way would be quite cheap; there has almost certainly been a marked change in the shy guy from Sheffield. The words pack more punch; there is a confidence here which has had to be careful not to slip towards the precipice of arrogance. Occasionally, as on ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’, it seems as if Turner has given up on poetics, and instead is comforted by the spurious knowledge that he is now popular enough to be lazy. Never fear, the easily repeatable lines pop up frequently – “leather jacket, collar popped like antenna” (‘No.1 Party Anthem’) as well as “And her lips are like the galaxy’s edge, And her kiss the colour of a constellation falling into place” (‘Arabella’) are two of the best examples, in my opinion. Forgivably, these moments of catchiness largely outweigh the descents into lethargy – but it is this cocky sluggishness which holds the entire album back.
One cannot doubt the artistry of Turner, Helders et al. The trouble with releasing several very good albums, is that, naturally, it becomes harder and harder to follow them up. These are no longer the new boys on the scene, therefore, our expectations have risen again and again – it would be a stretch to expect the Arctic Monkeys to surpass them every time. That is not to say that they fall far short; this is a good album, and it is a testament to their ingenuity that they have managed to constantly evolve. However, AM plainly does not contain enough good tracks to merit a higher rating out of ten. It’s a sorry drop-down from their best, but at least it maintains a safe middle ground – it will not alienate too many fans, and may in fact attract a few who have yet to sample the delights of this effervescent foursome.