Over the last eight years, the Arctic Monkeys have gone from spastic punk, to doomed stoner rock, to sparkling guitar pop, to their fifth album’s skinny-jeaned funk. On AM, the quartet, now based in Los Angeles, offer a paranoid, haunted collection that goes beyond the sweaty clubs and furtive flirts into the hotel rooms, after parties, and bad decisions that can follow.
Their first record was called Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not— a Nevermind the Bollocks-type sendup of the generation-defining Self-Titled Debut Album as well as a bratty act of defiance from four Yorkshire youths drunk on their own twitchy cleverness. Their fifth album is called AM, and those mountainous initials stood sky-high behind the band as they preened and stomped like proper rock stars through a headlining Glastonbury set earlier this year. Their face-shrouding hair and brown hoodies are out; greaser streaks and bespoke suits are in. And the same band that once aimed its sights at windbag poseurs on “Fake Tales of San Francisco” is now based in Los Angeles. These changes have caused some to question Arctic Monkeys’ commitment to their initial no-bullshit ideals. But the quartet isn’t giving into the mindless grandeur of rock’n’roll as much as they’re working within its confines to mine new territory; over the last eight years, as they’ve gone from spastic punk, to doomed stoner rock, to sparkling guitar pop, to this new album’s skinny-jeaned funk, Arctic Monkeys have stayed close to the spirit of their debut’s title while minimizing its excess at the same time.
Meanwhile, singer and lyricist Alex Turner has moved from syllable-stuffing chronicles of indie nightlife culture to songs that are sleeker, more blue-black, more self-lacerating. Thematically, AM centerpiece “No. 1 Party Anthem” comes off like a seedier take on Arctic Monkeys’ breakout track “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” as it tells of a collar-popped lothario on the prowl in a dank club made up of “lights on the floors and sweat on the walls, cages and poles.” But instead of blaring, this anthem is wistful, its piano, acoustic strums, and croons suggesting days gone by (along with 70s Elton John and Rod Stewart). Its swirling bridge sums up the scene in just a few choice phrases– “The look of love/ The rush of blood/ The ‘she’s with me’/ The Gallic shrug”– and sounds like a definitive endnote to Turner’s most notable songwriting style.
So AM goes beyond the sweaty clubs and furtive flirts into the hotel rooms, after parties, and bad decisions that can follow. The crux of the record is neatly summed up by the hook to the blistering “R U Mine?”: “R U mine tomorrow, or just mine tonight?”– an entire world of sex and love and desire distilled to quick-hit text-speak that Drake could appreciate. Turner isn’t sure of the answer to that question, and the resulting limbo does his head in all over the LP. He’s an avowed romantic living in an unromantic world, grasping for meaning in a city-to-city road-dog lifestyle hellbent on repelling it. In some ways, Turner’s struggle and his band’s recent gleaming transformation into something like rock gods is reminiscent of U2‘s turnaround circa Achtung Baby, when that quartet traded in deep virtuousness for sin, rhythm, and leather jackets. For Arctic Monkeys, loosening the tether to credulity can be freeing, allowing the band to live out their classic-rock dreams: T. Rex bop, Bee Gees backup vocals, Rolling Stones R&B, and Black Sabbath monster riffage are all rendered modern throughout AM with the help of longtime producer James Ford. And for Turner in particular, the switch has him connecting strings of desperate 3 a.m. thoughts: some horny, some bleary, some a bit frightening.
Arctic Monkeys release their fifth album, entitled AM. AM was produced by James Ford and co-produced by Ross Orton at Sage & Sound Recording, LA and Rancho De La Luna, Joshua Tree. The album was engineered by Ian Shea and mixed by Tchad Blake. Josh Homme, Pete Thomas and Bill Ryder-Jones all make guest appearances on AM as do the words of John Cooper Clarke, on the track “I Wanna Be Yours.”
- Do I Wanna Know?
- R U Mine?
- One For The Road
- I Want It All
- No.1 Party Anthem
- Mad Sounds
- Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
- Snap Out Of It
- Knee Socks
- I Wanna Be Yours