Words About Music
Arctic Monkeys “AM”
Seven years ago, the garage rock revival of the early 2000s was coming to a very sudden decline in musical quality. The Strokes followed up their beloved debut album with two less-than-beloved followups, resulting in a five-year hiatus. The White Stripes were a year away from releasing their final (and worst) album. The Vines had faded into obscurity. The Hives remained a cult-favorite with some catchy radio hits but lacked a great full-length. Franz Ferdinand were somewhat new and exciting, but they were on their way to an artistic decline. Interpol were getting ready to be completely ignored. It was really a tough time for music in this genre, and if it weren’t for Arctic Monkeys, it may not have been re-revived.
In 2006, a group of snotty British kids called Arctic Monkeys (led by the snarky, charismatic Alex Turner) released their debut album “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.” It was a huge success all around the world, and rightly so. It was exciting, different, and completely redefined the garage rock revivalist age, although some people tend to disagree. It really paved the way for groups like The Black Keys to become huge, as well as a lot of the groups in the new New Wave scene (Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, Cage the Elephant). Arctic Monkeys followed up their album with the stylistically similar “Favourite Worst Nightmare,” which started to head in a more mature territory with tracks like “Fluorescent Adolescent,” but still retained pretty much the same sound on the debut. Their next two albums, 2009’s “Humbug” and 2011’s “Suck It And See,” lacked the catchy hooks and pop-sensibilities and hi-energy insanity of the other Arctic Monkeys albums, which led some people to believe that Arctic Monkeys were dead and could in no way go back to the greatness of their earlier work while still heading into a more mature territory. Well, Arctic Monkeys have just proven those people wrong with their 5th release, “AM.”
Just like all previous Arctic Monkeys albums, “AM” is a little bit different. It’s far groovier than anything they’ve ever done. It’s even a little bit minimalistic and wide-open in some parts. It was produced entirely by Josh Homme, who put out an equally weird and dark album with his band Queens of the Stone Age earlier this year. The Monkeys are definitely feeling the Homme influence on these tracks. It’s a little bit dancey, a little bit dark, and all around the best thing Arctic Monkeys have put out since their debut album, and I can safely say I was not at all expecting that.
Alex Turner asks a few questions on this album, like “Do I Wanna Know?,” “R U Mine?,” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” These are all very important questions because they are all asked in some brilliant tracks. “Do I Wanna Know?” begins almost like a Black Keys song—perhaps they learned a thing or two upon touring with the group last year—with a bluesy riff that culminates in Alex Turner sounding as un-British as he’s ever sounded. Maybe he’s trying to appeal to an American audience, or maybe he’s just trying something new with alternative rock’s most experimental act in the mainstream. “R U Mine?,” which was originally believed to be a non-album single, is just timeless. They could have recorded this seven years ago and it would sound at home on any Arctic Monkeys release.
As fun as these tracks, and others, are, The Monkeys continue to opt for a more mature, slower sound. It’s definitely a midnight driving album if one was ever released in 2013, which I guess makes sense considering the album’s title. But even slower tracks like “No. 1 Party Anthem” and “Mad Sounds” are just brilliant. I can definitely hear the Nick Cave influence on tracks like these. “AM” would be a great road-trip album if it just weren’t so somber. It really does go hand-in-hand with Queens of the Stone Age’s “…Like Clockwork,” which Alex Turner contributed guest vocals and lyrics to. 2013 may be the year for off-the-wall comebacks, but it also seems to be the year of “Your favorite 2006-2009 buzz bands continuing to release great albums,” with excellent new releases from Vampire Weekend, QOTSA, Daft Punk, Fuck Buttons, and, to a much lesser extent, Phoenix. But at this point, if they haven’t already, Arctic Monkeys have proven their worth and staying power in a world where a band can be built up just as easily as it can be brought down. Alex Turner isn’t the next Pete Doherty or Noel Gallagher or Morrissey. He’s the first Alex Turner, and Arctic Monkeys are the first Arctic Monkeys.
SCORE – 9.0
FAVORITE TRACKS – Do I Wanna Know?, R U Mine?, Arabella, I Want It All, Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?, Knee Socks, I Wanna Be Yours
This review is dedicated to Timmy.