Arctic Monkeys – AM – review

There’s no doubt at this point that the Arctic Monkeys are as big as they come. Five albums in, and Alex Turner’s Sheffield Motorcycle gang of a band have completed their transformation from indie royalty to music heroes.

Arctic Moneys  AM Artwork

AM was born out of supposed boredom with the material of 2011s Suck It and See and the progression between the two albums is clear. Gone are the fast paced, finger shredding guitar riffs that lingered in Suck It and See from Humbug days gone by, and in their place we find slick, rolling licks of fuzz heavy guitar that owe far more to Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin than to Johnny Marr. Nick O’Malley’s bass lolls through the entire album, laid back and sexy, somehow managing to display influences both from classic rock and 90s g-funk; Snoop Dogg wouldn’t sound amiss spitting a verse over the strutting, arrogant bassline of r&b influenced ‘One for the Road’.

This duality is most apparent on ‘Arabella’, a song that manages to encapsulate the concept of AM in three and a half minutes. The slow, spaced bass and muted arpeggio that open this track exude vibes of hazy LA beaches and cruising down endless highways in open top Chevy’s, even Alex Turner’s vocals and turn of phrase pay homage to 90s rap.

Then seamlessly as you like thick, distorted waves of reverb heavy guitar crash in and we’re back to the swaggering, classic rock n roll vibes of opening tracks ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ and ‘R U Mine?’. Yet the Monkeys manage to avoid sounding ‘American’, a phrase which cropped up in more than one review of Suck it and See. Alex Turner’s lyrical palette is still laden with British and more specifically Northern themes and idioms (see the references to gloom and rain on the more ‘traditional’ sounding Knee Socks). And even Matt Helders’ percussion has a very British rock n roll feel to it.

So far so good, the Arctic Monkeys seem to know exactly what they’re doing with AM. Yet you can’t shake the feeling that by the time ‘I Want it All’ fades into the ironically titled ‘No.1 Party Anthem’ most listeners have tuned out a little.

The middle section of the album consists of three tracks back to back that all fit into the category of ‘blues-rock slow-jam’. They’re all perfectly good songs, but that’s the problem. ‘No.1 Party Anthem’ is ‘Suck and See It’ but with Radiohead on guitars and ‘Mad Sounds’ only achievement of note is being the most boring track on an already fairly predictable album.
For all of AM’s talk of getting high and its less than subtle suggestions of sex, ‘I saw this coming from the start, the shake rattle and roll’, the Arctic Monkey’s fail to excite to on the majority of the album. AM’s influences are embedded in Turner’s lyrics throughout whether he’s ‘[left] listening to the Stones two thousand light years from home’ in ‘I Want it All’ or Billy Joel’s aforementioned ‘shake, rattle and roll’ in ‘One For The Road’. Sadly, despite the NME’s claims that AM defies genre, this is inoffensive rock music.

The controlled, well put together nature of this album somehow prevents it from feeling like the real deal. Jamie Cook’s guitar solos sound like anyone else’s and Helders’ percussion borrows heavily from Led Zep’s John Bonham with its frequent use of crash cymbals and quick snare claps. It sounds a little too much like the ‘Arctic Monkey’s play the Black Keys’; the first half of AM is heavy on tweaked classics but low on surprise.

Seemingly aware of this, Turner and co. kick off the second half with personal favourite ‘Fireside’, the opening Spanish style guitar once again grabs the listener’s attention and finally delivers some well needed refreshment from Alex Turner’s six track impression of Josh Homme. Latest single ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ is undeniably one of their best, the lyrics a near perfect account of a Friday night out when someone’s on your mind, a brilliant depiction of everyday life that is matched only by Mike Skinner at his best in The Streets.

The less said about Pigeon Detective-esque ‘Snap Out of It’ the better – far better to focus your efforts on ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, a future classic in the Monkey’s catalogue with an instrumental that Nick Cave could call home and lyrics lifted from the poem of the same name by John Cooper Clarke; ironically it’s the only track where Turner’s emotion feels real.

AM is undeniably a good album, crafted to bring around long term fans that were unsure of Suck and See’s offering and to please those that loved it alike. With AM the Arctic Monkeys have cemented their legacy but still haven’t managed to surpass their triumphant debut.


About Author

mikevinti A failed musician at only 19, Mike has swapped dreams of rock glory for a desire to be part of Kanye West’s entourage. He will be spending his third year editing the music section in hopes that his dissertation will write itself and in the Norwich Arts Centre for similar reasons. Now bestowed with officially good taste in music, Mike can be found shouting at random passers-by about the artistic significance of Death Grips in hopes of finding a soulmate.

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January 2022
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