Alex Turner has long hair now, or he did at All Points West just a few weeks ago. The sheltered Brit has earned a certain mystique, but looking like a Led Zeppelin knock-off? Who would have thought he'd embody this aesthetic, especially after The Last Shadow Puppets so clearly marked him as a clean cut Beatle disciple (the songs! The video for "Your Love Is Standing Next To Me! People!") And Humbug means a hoax or a jest, and it happens to directly capture the ambiguity of this record, as well as Mr. Turner's mop. Many will be surprised when they hear this collection of songs, all of which stray from the Arctic Monkey style to new and interesting places, and none of which are expected. The Arctic Monkeys have taken a step forward (or backwards?) from their spunky punk to more delicate, dirty rock with several layers, requiring multiple listens to nod to, or even understand. The complication is welcome, but questionably an evolution as much as it is a transformation. Are we deceived by this Humbug? Should we shout it in the face of the ghosts of Christmas past? Listen to the record around ten times, and then continue reading this review.
"Dangerous Animals" is the perfect comparison here. Turner poorly spells out "Dangerous" (Fergie style), or so it seems, leaving out the e. At first I was convinced he was trying to mess with things, misspelling and twisting his lyrics. However, around the fourth listen (and looking for it) I heard the e, and that is what this entire record is about. Looking for the e hidden in the seeming jumble of mid-tempo riffs. The continuity can be blurry at times, and it makes listening straight through confusing at first. People exposed to "My Propeller" were initially surprised...this is Arctic Monkeys? Turner has strayed almost as far as The Last Shadow Puppets with some of his writing, especially with songs like "Secret Door" which blend sixties pop-writing with jumpy bass lines. "Potion Approaching" takes the writing to acid rock levels. And "Cornerstone" just straight up sounds like a Puppets song.
But the progression of Monkeys from punk to psych-rock seems natural, if not expected. And some of the songs are really infectious after thoroughly multiple listens. Puppets may just be a primer for Turner to explore and perfect the smash-up of decades of past rock styles, emulsified into some sort of modern amalgamation, the rock star of the aughts. His voice, accented, is already recognizable and distinct. Now the band must develop their style from 'dancefloor' to bigger and better things. So far, it's a step in the right direction. - joe puglisi