Arctic Monkeys – AM
Throughout the history of rock music there’s certain famous moments that stand out as epochal – Dylan going electric, Hendrix at Woodstock, Oasis at Knebworth, Radiohead at Glastonbury – the list goes on, and is full of musical events that elevated artists to a level beyond the reach of their peers. It may be too early to add Arctic Monkeys’ appearance at this year’s Glastonbury to that illustrious list, but there can be no doubt that their headline gig marked a significant change in their career. Under the bright lights and intense scrutiny of the Pyramid Stage, Arctic Moneys – and Alex Turner in particular – became much more than four sharp-tongued and insular Sheffield likely-lads. They became proper, entertaining and engaging rock musicians.
Since the huge success of their debut album in 2006, Arctic Monkeys have always seemed to be this generation’s most likely rock superstars. They’ve always had the talent, attitude and tunes, but the next big career step which would see them join the pantheon of British rock bands like Pink Floyd, The Who, The Beatles, The Stones, Oasis etc… had eluded them.
It may well turn out that in 20 years time their 2013 Glastonbury appearance will still be referenced as an important cultural moment in UK rock history. While we wait for that historical confirmation though, we have their fifth album AM to pore over.
In some hyperbolic quarters of the music press (ahem NME), AM is being held up as a borderline masterpiece. It’s not. It’s a very strong and rewarding album which reveals more with each listen, but to herald it a stone-cold 10/10 classic is a bit premature.
Alex Turner has called AM the band’s first ‘studio album’, in that it’s the first album where they have explored the opportunities and possibilities of the recording studio – rather than just trying to sound like a four-piece rock band. The experimentation is obvious right from the off, with ‘Do I Wanna Know?’s slinky, low-slung rhythm and falsetto backing vocals setting the tone for an album that restlessly explores different ideas and influences. ‘R U Mine’, notably the oldest track on AM, is the most straight-forward rock song here, but still has elements that separate it from the ‘traditional’ Arctic Monkeys sound. It’s worth pointing out that AM does not mark a complete revolution of Arctic Monkeys’ sound – they have consistently adapted and developed their sound with every new album – rather it’s more the consolidation of all their different influences and experimentation over the years.
The most obvious of these influences is that of Josh Homme, whose impressive shadow has lurked over Arctic Monkeys’ music since Humbug. ‘One For The Road’ is a massive nod to Homme and Queens Of The Stone Age’s trademark atmospheric, groovy and soulful stoner-rock. Homme may well be the mentor and guiding light for Arctic Monkeys’ continued growth as artists, but AM has plenty more on offer than QOTSA pastiches.
‘Arabella’ is an amazing mash-up of funk and 70’s rock, ‘I Want It All’ flirts with glam-rock, ‘Mad Sounds’ feels like a lost Lou Reed track and ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ incorporates 90’s G-funk, which shows Turner’s suggestion that AM was partly influenced by Dr Dre was no joke.
Elsewhere ‘No 1 Party Anthem’ carries on where Turner left off with the ‘Submarine’ soundtrack, and joins the likes of ‘Cornerstone’, ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ and ‘Reckless Serenade’ as untouchable high points in his songwriting career. The fact he chose to end the album with a song based around a poem by John Cooper Clarke (‘I Wanna Be Yours’) tells you all you need to know about where Alex Turner is heading in terms of lyricism.
AM is an album by a band at the peak of their powers. It feels too early to proclaim it a ‘classic’ album though, because it seems like there’s still a lot more to come from Arctic Monkeys. Sure it will take some beating, but remember – they’re all only in their mid-to-late twenties, so there’s plenty of time for them to reach even greater heights!