The Arctic Monkeys are known for an explosive success handled with diffidence. In their early days, the restless, young band had to carry the weight of public expectation, being deemed the British indie rock band of their generation after releasing only one single. They met expectation with Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not and further proved their legitimacy with their sophomore album. In what seems an effort to remain perpetually unconventional and unpredictable, they opted for a grungier, more hard-edged third album (Humbug). After garnering a tepid response, the Monkeys assured us their forthcoming album Suck It And See would be more poppy, and perhaps, as the album title hinted, stay truer to earlier Monkeys conviction.
The retro-minimalist cover art perfectly captures the essence of the album. With over half of the tracks starting and/or ending in a cacophony of musical tuning and playful improvisation, rawness is welcomed, abandoning the heaviness of Humbug and pointing further back to their original works. Most tracks have at least a tinge of 1960s flare, a sprinkle of pop. Yet, something is amiss.
The Monkeys appear to be stripping themselves of the preconceived notions that have always been forced on them, whether by the public or an internal paranoia, with their minimalistic approach. But instead of crashing on a place entirely undiscovered and earth shattering in classic Monkeys manner, they are gently tossed to an unidentifiable via point. The album simply feels safer.
Lead singer Alex Turner's lyrical brilliance is overt, as almost every line needs a moment to be mulled over and decoded. Yet, he seems to get stuck on the hate to love her, sweet but stings, paradox (seen in "Reckless Serenade", "She's Thunderstorms", "Suck It And See"). The cautiousness stems from the music. The opening drum sequence in "Love Is A Laserquest" is tantalizing. The bellows of the drum and rhythmic syncopation are reminiscent of the Beatles opening of "Why Dont We Do It In the Road?" Sitting ready to hear energy-dripping vocals heard in early Monkeys days ("I Bet You") akin to the yowls of McCartney, you cant help but feel disappointed when a slow bass rolls in, forming yet another crooning love track. Their youthful vitality is missing.
Swept up in a mid-life crisis thats happened upon them far sooner than is custom due to their instant popularity, the byproduct is an album speckled with premature maturity. Unable to return to their original, somewhat naive rebelliousness after touring the world, yet hoping to shelve the roughness of their last album, they chose to mature as songwriters and present an album representative of who they've become.
The refinement is there, but the spirit is lacking. They have the ability to mesh together their old and new sound to give birth to a whole new level of artistry. Our expectations for the Arctic Monkeys are always insurmountable. But the potential to extract every rich element from their past works to create something brilliant is there. Chalk it up to merely a stepping-stone in the right direction—the best is yet to come.