The Arctic Monkeys are dead. Actually, let us clarify that. The old Arctic Monkeys are dead. Take care of your copy of Whatever People Say I Am, That Is What I’m Not, treasure it even, for you will never hear its like again. If Favourite Worst Nightmare was the largely unsuccessful sound of a band struggling to find its identity, Humbug sees them throwing caution to the desert wind and really letting go. The back story is, by now, extremely familiar but still surreal. How a bunch of skinny indie kids who made their name through MySpace and wrote feisty, articulate songs about life in Sheffield and taking taxis and mardy bums ended up recording with a modern rock icon at his remote studio. How the kids grew their hair and grew up. How their third album is a masterpiece.
While the first two stories are certainly true, the third may be a slight exaggeration. But only a slight one. Humbug is a very, very fine record indeed but you certainly have to work to get to that opinion. The first impressions are not good, the sound of a band with the life sucked out of them and replaced with a dour earnestness and a devout dedication to real rock. In other words, it sounds just like a Queens Of The Stone Age album. It is a huge disappointment, but coming on the back of Favourite Worst Nightmare and, more specifically, -Crying Lightning’ not a huge surprise.
Yet it is that song that provides a way into the album. What initially seemed dirge like and dull somehow revealed its true glorious nature. Humbug as a hole takes a similar amount of effort, at least half a dozen listens if not more before you really get inside it and appreciate it for what it is. Once unlocked, however, its charms are plentiful. Right from the off it is clear that album number three has steered the band into even more unfamiliar territories, Alex Turner adopting a Morrissey style croon on -Propeller’, a lip smacking ode to pleasures off the flesh. Clearly the boy of ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor’ has become a man.
In fact it was probably a process that begun with The Last Shadow Puppets, whose influence reveals itself to be as strong as QOTSA, giving the rock element (powered as ever by drummer Matt Helders) a graceful upward curve. -Secret Door’, -Fire And The Thud’ and the magnificent -Dance Little Liar’ are all dripping in atmosphere, occasionally torn asunder by a rippling guitar solo. And, while Alex Turner can no longer claim to spend his Saturday nights at the local discotheque, he hasn’t totally lost his eye for the small detail. -Cornerstone’ is a mini-drama in itself, a gorgeous tale of longing and desire and quite possibly the highlight of the band’s career so far. Actually, make that definitely the highlight.
Having started this process hoping the band would have regained some of their old spark, it’s the two tracks that come closest (-Dangerous Animals’ and -Potion Approaching’) are the least satisfying, a measure of just how far they’ve come in a short space of time. Their debut suggested that here was a band who might just have something special to offer in time. That time is now. The Arctic Monkeys are dead. Long live the Arctic Monkeys.