I’ve followed Arctic Monkeys doggedly since I first heard ‘Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts’, and – despite losing a bit of interest between Humbug and Suck it and See, their third and fourth albums – I couldn’t wait to bite into their latest offering: September 9th’s ‘AM’. The title takes its cue from The Velvet Underground’s ‘VU’, and one of the tracks, ‘Mad Sounds’, actually starts out like Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’. So far, so freaking great.
First things first; the album is awesome. Poppy hooks, distorted guitars, great changes of pace, playfully unsubtle lyrics – AM has it all. Unlike Humbug, or even Favourite Worst Nightmare, you don’t need a couple of listens to dive into this. The album is catchy, memorable, and straight-up enjoyable from the getgo.
Describing the sound that Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Matt Helders and Nick O’Malley have produced on AM as ‘mature’ would be unfair, considering the maturity of their records from the very beginning. Turner’s status as a street/beat/neat poet was launched with ‘When the Sun Goes Down’ and has been coursing through the Monkeys’ work ever since. That said, the pace in which the album begins is decidedly more restrained than the previous offerings, and suggests a kind of musical nuance that usually trickles through solely in the lyrics. Gone are the angular opening stabs of ‘Brianstorm’, or the frenetic drums of ‘The View From the Afternoon’. ‘Do I Wanna Know’ instead begins with a lazy kick, snare, kick, snare, that slowly builds alongside some crunching guitar chords, fuzzy basslines, and Matt-Helders-brand-falsettos to create an opening track befitting of experienced rock stars.
There are a number of stand-out tracks – ‘Knee Socks’ has a great guest appearance from an ethereal Josh Homme, wailing out lyrics from the song’s breakdown to the final chorus, and ‘Snap Out of It’ somehows manages to take a discarded ELO piano riff and turn it into something listenable – but my favourite was probably ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’, a slow ballad that harks back to Turner’s solo offerings. The song is spacey, featuring reverb-y guitar lines, almost painfully obvious chord progressions, and a calmly crooned Turner vocal, but it combines to make something really sweet. For all their comfort with whacking the distortion up to 11, ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ is proof that they can pull it back down to the intimate. I guess here would be where to insert a further reference to The Velvet Underground’s self-titled masterpiece.
The band’s a sucker for a slow fade out song, and ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ is just that, following in the footsteps of ‘505’ or ‘A Certain Romance’. The chorus is backed by a synth pad that sounds a little bit like a choir or something. Either way, it’s a ballin’ end to a really fun listen.
Arctic Monkeys’ sound has been amazingly full since the release of ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’, and this is certainly still the case on AM. The guitars are loud, the drums are loud, and the bass is loud – but only when they need to be. ‘Mad Sounds’ and ‘No.1 Party Anthem’ are both nicely muted, but still wrap you up in their expansive sound. Credit really has to be given to long-time producer James Ford here.
It’s quite interesting to compare ‘AM’ and Franz Ferdinand’s latest offering, ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’, which was released last week. I actually saw the two of them perform at Leeds Festival in 2006, and both bands smashed it – super tight, super energetic, and just super fun. Sadly, re-invigorating tour aside – I’m pretty sure Franz Ferdinand played a gig at our very own Fibbers before the release of 2009’s ‘Tonight’ – The Archdukes (geddit?) sound exactly the same as they did in 2006. Some of the tracks could probably be placed at the tail-end of their 2004 eponymous album and they’d flow perfectly.
However, you’d be pushed to say the same thing about Arctic Monkeys. Every single one of their five records has stretched them musically, and AM is no exception. That’s what an artist should be doing. And that’s why Arctic Monkeys are positioned as my favourite band of all time.
I’d give this a solid 8/10. Groundbreaking? Maybe not. Worth your time? Absolutely.
But hey, the only review you really care about will be uploaded onto Youtube by a bald American in a few days, so don’t fret too much. [The Needle Drop. Come on]
Fav track: No.1 Party Anthem
Weirdest line: ‘I wanna be your vacuum cleaner’