When the Arctic Monkeys began making tougher music in 2007, moving away from the melodious indie rock that characterized their first album, I thought that it was a phase. I thought that Favorite Worst Nightmare
would be considered typical of the middle years of Arctic Monkeys, a time of experimentation with stoner rock that would eventually give way to a return to what I consider the stuff the band does best: sweet pop hooks and sharp lyrical observations. Listening to their fifth album, AM
, I realize that I was wrong. Arctic Monkeys will not be remembered as a pop band with a stoner rock chapter; they will be remembered as a rock band that started out as a British pop sensation.
So there you have my bias going into this album: I absolutely loved Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
, the Monkeys' debut album, and their early singles and EPs. The storytelling and garage feel of their debut puts it on par with The Streets' Original Pirate Material
: a day in the life in modern England, only it was about drunk high school kids in Sheffield, not drunk twenty-somethings in London and Birmingham. And honestly, I have not paid much attention to anything the Arctic Monkeys have put out in later years, because I kept getting disappointed. Still, I have a soft spot for these guys, having grown up with them. And surprisingly, AM
did not disappoint me at all.
is largely a dance album, complete with R'n'B melodies, falsetto vocals, and Matt Helder's hip-hop-inspired drumming. It also flirts with soul music, especially in the middle trio of songs, "No. 1 Party Anthem," "Mad Sounds," and "Fireside." "Mad Sounds" is a soul ballad that turns into 90s Screamadelica
, and "Fireside" is its fucked-up counterpart, using the same organ and doo-wop background vocals, but to a completely different effect.
Songs like "Knee Socks," featuring guest vocals by the Arctic Monkeys' musical mentor and Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, and the booty-call anthem "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?" prove that Alex Turner is not an awkward boy anymore, but a sexy grownup. These and other late night-themed songs on AM
will make the band's friends at home in Sheffield jealously wonder what kind of depraved party lifestyle the Arctic Monkeys are really living out there in the Californian desert.
My favorite track is "No. 1 Party Anthem," a ballad whose feel doesn't match the silly title. It has Turner crooning a story about looking for love at a night club, wearing a leather jacket with the "collar popped like Cantona." Here Turner's talent as a songwriter and storyteller really is on display, with lines like, "It's not like I'm falling in love, I just want you to do me no good, and you look like you could." It captures perfectly all the mixed feelings of anticipation and loneliness that sometimes accompany a big night out - what Why's Yoni Wolf called "The preemptive nostalgia of the possible but doubtful."
is a strong record with truly great melodies, arrangements and lyrics, which are only occasionally drowned in the boring metal riffs that Arctic Monkeys employed too often in the past. It will be exciting to see what the band does next, because at this point in their career, they could move in multiple directions. AM
shows that they are still hungry for experimentation, but not at the expense of a good song.
is out now on Domino. Get your copy here