Arctic Monkeys has always been a band like no other. From being hailed for their quintessential British sound when they broke out in spectacular fashion in 2006, they went on to pioneer the California rock genre. Five albums in, and you can realise that the band has come a long way from their first, petulantly, almost childishly, titled “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”. “AM” has none of that pretentious self-aware cleverness.
That is not to say that the Arctic Monkeys have sold out, even if the band that once took the piss on the “Fake Tales of San Francisco” is now, ironically, based in LA. Just as Green Day felt the wrath of its fans who mistook their popularity for going against the tenets of punk, so has the Arctic Monkeys faced criticism for their move to LA and their hoodies giving way to suits. But there is no need for concern; the band is as healthy as ever and kicking away at full glory.
It is as easy to pin down the band’s genre as it is to find an actual monkey in the actual Arctic; the band has gone from spazzed-out punk, to hazy psychedelic rock, to teeny-bopper pop to, in their latest iteration, tightly wound funk. In some way, therefore, “AM” is the band’s return to home turf after the period of obligatory debauchery.
The spirit of “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” is clearly evident, rather audible, in “AM”. Singer-songwriter Alex Turner no longer enunciates about urban culture but croons with sleek lines and sharp edges. “No. 1 Party Anthem” seems like a perverted reworking of “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”, the band’s breakout hit by many accounts. There is a weird predatory aura in the former song and at the same time, it has none of the blaring excesses of the latter; piano and acoustic guitar sounds, invoking memories of Elton John in the 1970s and Rod Stewart. The songwriting seems characteristically Turner, and showcases the Arctic Monkeys’ creative output at its best.
“AM” follows the thematic arc of a boozed out party, followed by a string of bad decisions; in the vein of many of Drake’s signature tracks, “R U Mine?” (Prince would have been proud of that title) vocalises in short, powerful bursts but speaks worlds about sex and love and desire. The cheerful romantic has been replaced by the sceptical one, grasping at straws in a thoroughly “street” city that has no time for the little things in life. This dichotomy is evident in both the band’s lyrical content as well as their transformation from the indie underground to mainstream rock gods, not unlike U2 after “Achtung Baby”. This is by no means a complaint against the Arctic Monkeys; the lighter brief has allowed a more classic rock sound to shine through, especially with James Ford as producer.
The band took a thematic U-turn in 2009 with “Humbug”; scenes from small town England in the band’s earlier music were replaced by the desire to get oneself jerked off in the album’s opening track titled “My Propeller”. In many ways, “AM” revisits the darker music of “Humbug”, especially since the 2011 “Suck It and See” got only middling reviews. The lyrics drip with lust and the return to the rock scene is plainly evident. However, there is plenty of the mainstream in the album as well, which can cause diehard indie fans to do a double take. “I Want It All” smells of Pharrell while “Snap Out of It” is clearly inspired by Motown. The kicker however comes from the most unlikely of sources, more so in an Arctic Monkeys album: “I wanna be your Ford Cortina; And I will never rust” is the band’s slightly modified take on a John Cooper Clarke poem from the 1980s. Mr Turner pours his heart and soul into this final song in “AM”, and you remain dumbstruck long after the album is done playing.
“AM” isn’t your typical disruptive Arctic Monkeys album, and it definitely isn’t their best work. If it is gratification you seek, you will be better served by the band’s earlier discography. But “AM” reveals that the band is never beyond experimentation. The Arctic Monkeys will never find themselves bound to a label, and this latest album is plenty proof of that.
Arctic Monkeys’ sound is unique, to say the least. Therefore, you do owe it to yourself to listen to the band on vinyl; the format just adds another dimension to the music that you just have to experience for yourselves. You can find the record at http://thebarbershopmusic.com/site/en/vinyl-records/1068-arctic-monkeys-am.html