Five albums in seven years is an impressive feat for any band. Five consistently successful albums which conquer the charts, open a window to dominating American radio and propel a bunch of once unassuming Sheffield lads to headliners of every European Festival worth attending is simply something special.
That, however, was then and this is very much now. Can Arctic Monkeys deliver for yet another time? You bet. A rhythmic stomp and clap opens a new period of their legacy as ‘Do I Wanna Know’ instigates a blurry-eyed musical masterpiece. The second single from the record, it moves fluidly into the first, ‘R U Mine’, the first suggestion back in February of a new departure.
Produced by long time Monkeys collaborator James Ford, AM (already nominated for this year’s Mercury Music Prize) allows them to mature accordingly with a guiding hand from someone who has been there from their origins. While lyrical themes and instrumentation has vastly changed since their debut, this is still intrinsically an Arctic Monkeys’ record, filled with liquor laden tales of after-midnight mischief – with Turner being the main perpetrator judging by the lyrics: “ever thought of calling when you’ve had a few? Cause I always do”.
In the past the band’s collaborations have generally been well received, although for some the resultant friendship between Turner and Josh Homme has been contentious; moulding their later, darker sounds on Humbug and the dividing Suck It And See. Perhaps to their relief, AM has very little of the Cali-Rocker. ‘One For the Road’ is the first track to feature his vocals, and then he only reappears minimally on the penultimate ‘Knee Socks’.
Of the other material, ‘Arabella’ is the strongest on offer. For a track that ascribes to hip-hop, metal and everything in between, there’s a lot of empty space – filled with Turners cocky bravado and backed up well with a catchy hook. Imbued by Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’, ‘Arabella’ drips with confidence and is one of their best songs since…well….since ever. Later tracks such as ‘I Want It All’ are a testament to Helders’ vocal capability, complimenting Turner’s northern drawl perfectly, while the croony mid-way slow burners show just how strong a stadium band the Arctic Monkeys can be. ‘No.1 Party Anthem’ is a wispy classic that has the potential to be placed alongside the melancholic ballads such as ‘Cornerstone’ and ‘Only Ones Who Know’. There’s no greater echo of the past on AM yet, while it changes the pace, the overall feeling is of a definite progression.
One of the last moments of note comes in the form of ‘Mad Sounds’, another ballad galvanised in Beatles’ melodies and Lennon-esque witticism culminating in the pinnacle of the hook: “then out of nowhere, somebody comes and hits you with an ooh la la la, ooh la la la…”. Strong as it is from then on in, nothing can be said that hasn’t already been demonstrated in the impressive opening thirty minutes. The final song, a re-imagining of John Cooper-Clarke’s, ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ ends poignantly on a tender note, miles from the opening sex-driven riffs of their first handful of singles. Something to ponder further perhaps.
Long gone are the once blushing, scruffy ragamuffins from Sheffield; AM gives birth to a quartet of suave men who can pull off leather jackets and trackies with equal allure all the while playing some of the most sultry rock and roll Britain has ever produced. Perhaps this is Arctic Monkeys’ most impressive feat of all.