REVIEW: ARCTIC MONKEYS – AM (2013)
“Ever thought of calling when you’ve had a few?”
“Cause I always do.”
Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner, vulnerably love sick and insatiably hung up, answers his own question on AM’s opening track “Do I Wanna Know?” It along with fellow AM song title questions “R U Mine?” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” paint a clear picture as to what time of night these songs are inspired by— early morning, restless and drunk, out with friends but no one seems to matter besides the girl that’s caught your eye, or the one you can’t get off your mind. With Turner, it always seems to be one or the other, often times the latter. The British rock band authentically captures the 3 a.m. essence on their now fifth album and they do so while further diversifying their arsenal of proven-hit sounds.
The Arctic Monkeys started their musical career as just teenagers out of Sheffield’s High Green suburb. Their 2006 debut album was in no way just a modest success; Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not became the fasting selling debut album in British chart history, going on to win several British music awards, and not to mention worldwide exposure. Where does a band of 20 year olds go from there?
Somehow the British lads found a way of not getting lost in the fame, and it seems to correlate with their persistent focus on the music. With each subsequent album release, the band further solidifies their craft, powered behind Turner’s consistently thoughtful and eloquent lyrics and the further maturation and expansion of the band’s sound. Frantic, catchy and hip-hop soaked, AM is an exciting, highly engaging new chapter in the Arctic Monkeys untiring strong hold presence in modern rock music.
Even with its notable hip-hop influence, AM doesn’t come without its bustling rock moments.Debut single “R U Mine” along with the brashly thumping “Arabella” are loud, snarling reminders that the band’s hard rock edge is alive and well. The latter features Hendrix-like guitar shreds attractively balanced with a trademark looming melody. Turner helplessly croons for the title girl, “And when she needs a shelter from reality, she takes a dip in my daydreams.”
Turner’s lyrics are always articulate, passionate, and delivered with an often relatable personal meaning. On the band’s previous release, 2011’s Suck It And See, he seemed to be at his most heavy-hearted yet, but while doing so, he showcased a beyond-his-years composure and understanding of the feeling expressed. Suck It And See album tracks, “Love Is A Laserquest,” “Black Treacle” along with the album’s title track, all showcased an awareness, as if the breakup was many months ago, emotions have now cooled, and these songs were the level-headed perspective on those surrounding feelings.
AM’s lyrics, on the other hand, seem directly caught up in the madness itself: love, desire, longing and heartbreak. There isn’t always time for poise and understanding, and the AM songs feel very immediate, intense, and emotionally entangled, but no less profound. In both the piano-laced ballad “No. 1 Party Anthem” and clap-trance stomper “I Want It All” Turner fires off segments of lyrics in list form. On “No. 1 Party Anthem,” the song cascades, leaving him singing bullet points: “The look of love/ The rush of blood/ The “She’s with me” / The Gallic shrug/ The Shutterbug–” These aren’t the details fit for building a story, but more like rungs in a ladder, towering and endless, each to hang on, but only for a moment.
Hip-hop influenced and bass heavy trips “One For The Road” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” are fresh routes for the band, and they find a way to make the experimentation sound like a rich integration rather than a forceful attempt at something new. More traditional rock tunes, the electronic Caribbean-scented “Fireside” and high-pitch arching “Snap Out Of It” could’ve been overlooked in all the AM hip-hop/ R&B glitz and glam, but they hold their own with unique rousing melodies and Turner’s thoughtful longings.
As for the sound-spanning “Knee Socks,” it’s pure AM delight; unfolding like a soulful 60s pop ditty only to cascade into a Bowie-esque, hollowing echo— simply, a fun, igniting nod to those types of socks that never seem to come off. And for the easy-listening “Mad Sounds,” what more is there to say than “Ooh la la la, Ooh la la la.”
British poet John Cooper Clarke was an early influence on Turner and his writing, and as an ode, it’s Clarke’s poem “I Wanna Be Yours” that almost entirely makes up AM’s closing number. However, the Arctic Monkeys transform the words into one of the most infectious and gorgeous songs they’ve ever done. Dripping in R&B pacing and arrangement, “I Wanna Be Yours” jumps beyond Drake, The Weeknd, even Usher and R. Kelly. We’re talking 90’s-peak Boyz II Men here. No one is going back to that, no one is touching that– let alone pulling it off. Yet four kids from Sheffield are killing it, with borrowed poetry lyrics, coffee pots and Ford Cortinas.
How is a band that began so incredibly hyped, with a name as kooky as the Arctic Monkeys, still around eight years later, and making albums this good? Since their debut, there have been claims that these boys are going to be the greatest band in the world—as big as The Beatles, even bigger. Yet, it seems if Alex Turner and company put focus on any of that, they would’ve been forgotten years ago. AM is an fantastic album– fresh, sincere and captivating; one of the best of the year. There’s something natural, even effortless, to the Arctic Monkeys’ music making, and at this point in their career you can only point to the foursome’s diligence and raw talent. Arctic Monkey buzz doesn’t exist in 2013. The attention is on the music, and with bands as great as the Arctic Monkeys, that’s all they need, and all they seem to want.