Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thrill of Discovery: Arctic Monkeys - Part 4/Conclusion

Day 7: December 14, 2011
Suck it and See

And THIS is the potential that Arctic Monkeys always hinted at…well, half the album at least. It’s not like it’s evenly split, but it kind of is. The first two songs and the last four are phenomenal. Just great, solid, excellent in varying degrees. The stuff in the middle varies from pretty fuckin’ good (“Reckless Serenade”) to pretty OK (“The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala) to the worst Arctic Monkeys song of all time (“Brick by Brick” which sounds like the group trying to collectively suck off an arena for the favor of the arena hosting a rock show, just pathetic, and awful, and really the sole reason why this album didn’t get the #25 spot on my year end list. An album is only as good as its worst song). But the six songs I love, I love fiercely. I understand this band now, and I think Alex Turner is a lifer. I think he has it in him to not have a Gallager-esque meltdown. I know this because I listened to this album like 100 fucking times in my car over the span of three months when I was supposed to be writing these little Thrill of Discovery bits really quick. I wanted to take my time, give them the benefit of the doubt, and on this album I realized that it was the iffiest album I’d ever heard. It’s the breaking through the wall. Which is to say, there’s bits of brick (pun intended, in reference to the aforementioned godawful “Brick By Brick” holy shit is that song terrible) in the punch. But let’s get on with the good, ok?

“She’s Thunderstorms”

Oh man, what an opener! Pensive riff all on its lonesome for the distorted chords and Turner’s dulcet tones to ease their way in and then the crash-in of the drums yes, yes, yes. Everyone sounds better here. The dance punk phase is dead and buried, fuck that. Arctic Monkeys sound like Arctic Monkeys now and I am so excited about this. It’s a great song title too. Titling songs is a lost art, and only the great songwriters know how to do it right. It’s important. Did I mention that already? Like the title of a book. I know music is a joke now and even the indiest of music blogs suck off the mainstream at will, but I really do appreciate Arctic Monkey’s effort at titling their songs. I looked at the tracklist before listening to this album, just to make sure I wasn’t crazy for wanting to listen to Arctic Monkeys (I listend to this before I even listened to their debut Whatever You Think I Am That’s What I’m Not) and with tunes titled “She’s Thunderstorms,” “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala,” “Piledriver Waltz,” and “Love is a Lazerquest” I was convinced to charge ahead. The album title is brilliant too, if only to get a rise out of the censors (I believe this album was barred from the shelves of Wal-Mart or something due to its “suggestive title”).

“Black Treacle”

Like I said, I’ve been listening to this album in my car for months. At one point, I thought I’d start a feature on the blog where I took songs I liked and made recipes out of them. Oh yeah, the songs would have to be about food. FOOD SONGS BLOG! FUN! So there would be a recipe for treacle tart but then I realized I’m not British and I don’t know where I’d even GET treacle so I decided to put that on the shelf. This was also the song where Turner won me over. This line, in particular: “Now I’m out of place and I’m not getting any wiser/ I feel like the Sundance Kid behind a synthesizer/ And I tried last night to pack away a laugh/ Like a key under the mat/ But it never seems to be there when you want it.” He’s a WEIRD songwriter, which is wonderful. Stream of consciousness, know what I mean? Just images I haven’t thought of coming out of his head and making it easier to understand where he’s coming from.

“Brick by Brick”

Did I mention I hate the song? It’s like a total regression. “You were doing SO well in rehab until you ate all that crack like it was a pudding.” Yeah. “I wanna rock and roll/ Brick by brick.” This stands in stark contrast to the above-mentioned line about synthesizers. This song is just so blatantly terrible, I don’t know how it ended up on this album. Who the fuck would ever care about this song? Really, who? Seriously, fuck this shit. Fuck it so goddamn hard. This ruins the album for me. I don’t even think Arctic Monkeys like this song. They pry think it’s a joke, good for them. This ruins the album. Did I say that already?

“Piledriver Waltz”

Annnnnd we’re back, with that hypnotic two-note guitar line. And magnificent songwriting. I feel like Alex Turner thinks this is his masterpiece, and really it goddamn is the best song he’s written. I say this because it’s the only song from the Submarine soundtrack that ended up on this album. And that soundtrack was FULL of amazing songs. Granted, there were only five songs on it, but still, the crossover is telling. This is the song that won me over though. It transfers well from the solo version over to the full band version. Have I mentioned how amazing Alex Turner’s soundtrack to Richard Ayoade’s Submarine is? It’s so great. Submarine is my favorite film from 2011 and part of that is because of the music. So perfectly placed, so perfectly executed. There’s so much trust, too. I can see it in my head, I don’t know how it happened, but I see Ayoade and Turner as friends (Ayoade directed all the best Arctic Monkeys videos) and Ayoade telling Turner about this movie he’s making and how he wants him to do the soundtrack. That’s a big role, really, because music can kill a movie if it’s done wrong (see: the 80s). Submarine is very Rushmore-esque but moves beyond it because it’s just barely so unique. Does that make sense? It’s unique in the way anything can be unique in the 2010s which is basically impossible. It’s unique because it’s something that is so familiar yet so fresh and exciting at the same time. That’s what Turner’s songwriting is to me. It’s like an old friend I’ve never met before.

“Love is a Laserquest”

Goddddddd, fuck. This song kills. The backhalf of this album is the strongest backhalf of an album I’ve heard in forever. I don’t know how these songs got buried at the end, and I don’t know how all the substandard songs got shoved up front. The aching, goddamnit! Alex Turner writes lyrics that are easy to transpose into a critique. So many songs you hear and you love the words but you type them into a bit you’re writing and they don’t have the power you want them too because there’s that intangible IT that you get with a song, but Turner is onto something I just don’t know quite what. I love his words. And this is my favorite song on the album. Well, writing-wise at least. I think the title track is more of a sweeping anthem, but the tricks Turner pulls in this one are just phenomenal. “Do you still feel younger than you thought you would by now/ Or darling have you started feeling old yet?” Maybe that doesn’t seem grand when you read it but when I write it and look at it it feels grand. “Don’t worry, I’m sure that you’re still breaking hearts/ With the efficiency that only youth can harness.” THOSE ARE THE NEXT LINES! THIS SONG IS PERFECT! It’s like an AIM instant messenger away message in the making. The whole thing! And it’s a song about trying to forget someone you’re incapable of forgetting as much as you need to. And it does everything right. “I have found a better method of pretending you were just some lover.” It hurts. It stings. It’s necessary.” Brilliant tune.

Day 8: February 11, 2012
“Suck it and See”

Saw the video to this while combing through music blogs and inadvertently remembered that movie Submarine was coming out and vaguely remembered that Alex Turner was doing the soundtrack. Although then, it was “that dude from Arctic Monkeys eh, who cares?” Then I cared, because though this video was kind of the usual music video fare, the song was damn good. And I watched Submarine that night and Turner’s songs were just flat out amazing. And that set this whole ball rolling. I feel like I’ve spent the eight years of my life living in this world and have been taking more and more vacations from it as of late. Being embroiled in college radio or writing for a local weekly non-stop burnt me out, and getting to listen to the back catalog of a band I had trained myself to ignore has been a pretty liberating experience. It’s not that I’ve quit listening to music critically, it just feels like I’ve quit doing that self-defeating thing where I refuse to listen to bands based on this or that. Being music director at KJHK was the worst because I felt like there was this air of quality I had to maintain and it was absolute insanity trying to make sure no hip new bands slipped through the cracks. By the end I was depleted, and though I usually regret having to graduate and not getting to try out for programming director, I think I probably woulda been too fried to handle it. It might have killed me at that point. So out to pasture for now, where I like it, and get to listen to songs like Arctic Monkeys’ “Suck it and See” and just enjoy modern pop music done precisely right. It’s not overly special or anything like that, but it is infinitely enjoyable, and sometimes that’s more important.


I can’t wait for Alex Turner’s solo career. Or for his band to scale it back for a record or too to give his songwriting some room to breathe. “Piledriver Waltz” and “Love is a Laserquest” are just a taste of what I think this guy can do when the tempo takes a break. Turner’s soundtrack to Submarine is still on repeat. Well, not on repeat, but I listen to it once every other week. “Stuck on a Puzzle” is a perfect song in my head because not only does it serve its purpose and fit the film it was written for like a well tailored glove, but it works even better on its own. The version of “Piledriver Waltz” on the soundtrack is better than the version on Suck it and See, too. It’s the acoustic guitar that does it. Directs it straight to the heart. There’s a smoke-filled room quality to Turner’s vocals, which just kind of push this version to another level. I can hear it playing in some lounge to maybe 5 or 6 drunks. Everyone else has left. This is the last song. He sounds kind of exhausted, but you can hear the effort shining through. It’s a beautiful mix. A beautiful song! And I hope Alex Turner doesn’t end up blowing it because right now he is poised to just keep getting better.

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