Monday, November 4, 2013

Gut Feeling: Arctic Monkeys - AM

Arctic Monkeys – AM
Domino, 2013

A couple years back I decided that I would listen to Arctic Monkeys. When they drunkenly stumbled onto the alt rock radio landscape in the 2006, I paid absolutely no mind. I heard no singles, I only knew that out of nowhere they had be come THEE hot shit in the way nebulous British rock bands become for three seconds before being passed up for the next big thing. And then front man Alex Turner recorded five songs for the soundtrack of the film Submarine and my heart melted right onto the floor. Clearly, I had misjudged a band I had never heard. A day after hearing Turner’s Submarine songs, Arctic Monkeys released the video for “Suck it and See” and I watched it because I was assured that their singer was a particularly excellent songwriter. And then I was hooked. The video is a flashy, NSFW shot to look like it’s old film stock whatever, but the song is pure satisfaction. After that, I invested in the band’s discography and did a whole write-up for the Thrill of Discovery feature of this blog. Arctic Monkeys became my go to workout music and while I couldn’t make it all the way through their albums (Favourite Worst Nightmare in particular, which I still believe has only one good song (albeit the most tremendouslycatchy song in AM’s catalog)) I cobbled together fifteen songs into a playlist and those songs are still what I wish all mainstream striving alternative rock music would sound like. Arctic Monkeys taught me that it is OK to be slick and fame seeking if the songwriting is excellent. Even if they never made a complete album, the singles were good enough for me to give the band a free pass forever.

I’m not surprised that Arctic Monkeys’ monogrammed new album AM is the most cohesive work the group has managed to date. It’s a fascinating affair that had me turned off almost instantly the second I saw the cheesy/sleazy cover for the “R U Mine?” single. A total misjudgment on my part, considering that this record is built to be sleazy. Classically sleazy. Rolling Stones sleazy. AM is admirably sleazy and showcases just how finely Alex Turner’s songwriting has become over the last seven years. The whole affair feels built to be played with the lights dimmed low (guest contributor Josh Homme called it a “really cool, after-midnight record” which yep, yep it is). Gone is the brattiness of the first couple records. Welcome to everything Arctic Monkeys have been trying to hammer out since Humbug: A hypersuccessful band making great, mature pop music. The questioning singles—“R U Mine?,” “Do I Wanna Know?,” “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?—are obvious, but blend in so well with AM’s moody atmosphere. It’s amazing how firmly this album gets its hooks into you despite being so low key. Just that little riff that runs through opener “Do I Wanna Know?” is enough to suck you in, but the way Turner spins a serpentine vocal line around his mouthful lyrics really highlights Arctic Monkey’s best assets. Sure, it’s very much rooted in a very basic rock n’ roll, but the way the band deftly navigates the nostalgia complexes of a music fan’s brain while still making intelligently designed tunes is a feat. Especially when rock is basically agreed to be dead in the ground. The songs feel built to hold up in huge arenas just as well as they hold up in dimly lit, 300 capacity smoke filled rock clubs.

Lead-off single “R U Mine?” is about as rockin’ and classic Arctic Monkeys as AM gets. The rest is a lush, sultry mix of mid to down tempo numbers that ambles along. Leave it to Alex Turner to call one of the slowest, crooniest tracks on the record “No. 1 Party Anthem.” While the album is about two songs too long (the faux rocker “I Want it All” is a throwaway and “Mad Sounds” is a really, really great track that would be a perfectly serviceable b-side only because it causes the middle of the album to sag a little bit), but there’s nothing like Suck it and See’s insufferable cock rock number “Brick by Brick” that torpedoes the album’s overall quality. I don’t know why I’m surprised. I don’t even feel dirty about liking Arctic Monkeys and yet I approached AM with a guilty pleasure attitude (which is a stupid fucking attitude to approach anything with). Is it overkill to say that Arctic Monkeys are the modern day’s answer to the Rolling Stones? I feel like that’s the sort of grandiose statement that would cause people to throw a fit, but it feels like Arctic Monkeys fit that mold. Good, old fashioned, sexually charged rock n’ roll music that’s fuckin’ smart and fuckin’ good. It’s never not nice to see a band grow and evolve and get better album after album, but it feels extra nice to see a band with millions of listeners in a perpetual spotlight keep making albums for themselves.

"Do I Wanna Know?"

"No. 1 Party Anthem"


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