“I had big ideas, the band were so excited / The kind you’d rather not share over the phone / But now the orchestra’s got us all surrounded / And I cannot for the life of me remember how they go” sings Alex Turner on ‘Big Ideas’, the seventh track from their new album The Car.
Here is a type of melancholy new to Turner and the band. An admitted uncertainty about their direction is the concern of this song in particular but doubt and heartache, even loneliness, are the broader themes that wind through The Car’s haunting, orchestral arrangements.
Since 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, their sci-fi lounge pop extravaganza set in a futuristic lunar hotel, the Monkeys have broken away from AM’s universally loved hard rock to forge a new creative direction for themselves.
“I thought we were going to go in and make a rock record or something. That was the idea.” Turner told BBC Radio 1. “By the time we got to the studio at the end of that year, the feeling was like, ‘what were we on about?’”
Sonically, The Car finds the Monkeys as they re-enter the atmosphere, the lyrical insight of Tranquility Base remains but is filtered, with the exception of a distinctive Moog synthesizer, through earthly timbres such as a sweeping string section which wistfully accompanies Turner’s pensive verses.
Famed for his lyricism since the urban poetry of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not forced listeners to take notice, Turner has perhaps reached the zenith of his articulatory powers on The Car. It is dominated by dense metaphors and obscure cultural references to the likes of Nintendo’s City Life, Paramount’s Wonder Park and even a hypothetical LEGO adaptation of Stanley Kubrick’s unrealized Napoleon.
Within the labyrinth of words, and almost evidenced by the often-unnavigable cantos, it becomes clear that this is a personal, distinctly introspective self-examination. Perhaps references are there to be shared and not always understood, existing as insight rather than explanation.
A pattern still emerges. As the album winds down, it becomes clear what is troubling the Arctic Monkeys – identity. As themselves and as a group, are they “dragging out a long goodbye”? Or does this extended phase of meditation make “perfect sense”?
An enigmatic, emotional puzzle of an album, The Car affirms the latter.
Article by James Wilson