REVIEW: AM by Arctic Monkeys

Tune your dials to AM because this is the album that yanks Arctic Monkeys out of the rut that was Suck It And See.  There’s a wonderful, subtle strand of RnB that intertwines throughout the album.  Percussion flows concisely from hip-hop inspired beats, making most of the tracks really groovy.  As Josh Homme (who sings on ‘Knee Socks’) sums up eloquently: “It’s not disco…but modern, dancefloor sexy.”  Take for example ‘One For The Road’, with its expansive vocals that gels well with the band’s signature dark guitar melodies.

The arrangements show a refreshing thoughtfulness.  Those RnB vibes gave permission for the lads to play with rhythm like a cat with string, and consequently AM bounces.  Pauses and accenting are used as cleverly as any Keith Richards riff.  They’ve learnt that they don’t need the guitars hammering all the time.  It’s less raw than in previous offerings, but much more sophisticated.  The polished ‘Do I Wanna Know’ launches the album, signalling the band’s success in shedding off the last remnants of the childish indie rock image.

‘Arabella’ and ‘R U Mine?’ epitomises the matured song-writing of a grown up Alex Turner.  This isn’t the troubled teen growing up in a backwater town anymore, his world has expanded. Nihilism is replaced with reflection, raw energy with subtlety and groove.  Instead of drug dealers and questionable teenage ethics, romance and sexual tension are crammed into AM.  Let us not forget the suggestive female line drawings that pop up in the ‘Do I Wanna Know’ video.  Alex Turner’s lyrics constantly illustrate that he has a massive hard on for some female touch.  But if you’re a girl, his seductive crooning makes you feel like you could be that female:

/Decided that once again I was just dreamin/Of bumping into you// – ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’

/And when she needs to shelter from my reality/She takes a dip in my daydreams// – ‘Arabella’

/Unfair we’re not somewhere/misbehaving for days//She’s a silver lining/Climbing on my desire// – ‘R U Mine?’

/If you like your coffee hot/Let me be your coffee pot// – ‘I Wanna Be Yours’

arctic-monkeys-2013The guitars and drum beat in ‘I Want It All’ would have felt right at home in a Kasabian album (‘Shoot the Runner’ anybody?).  This is not necessarily a bad thing: it’s an above average song with some excellent guitar work, which hints at those Queens of the Stone Age and The Black Keys influences.  ‘R U Mine’ would fall into this category too with sexy heavy hitting riffs, drenching up memories of Humbug. Despite being the heaviest track it will no doubt prove a live favorite across the fan base.

As with all great works, AM does have its blemishes.  You find yourself listening to the music more than the lyrics most of the time.  Not to say that there’s no significant meaning in the words, but the vocals sometimes become a rhyming exercise, peppered with alliteration.  Which is enjoyable, but shouldn’t just be there for the sake of it.  The tracks off Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not and Favourite Worst Nightmare had the same flair, but much more substance.  Take the ridiculous lyrics of ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, where Turner likens himself to inanimate objects.  Some might argue that’s just part of the band’s charm, but that defense didn’t excuse Oasis‘ dark blotch, ‘She’s Electric‘ and it doesn’t work here either.

Unfortunately the middle of the album drops in excitement, particularly with the terrible ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’.  There’s some serious dissonance between the comical lyrics and the emotionally charged arrangement.  It will be a point of contention, but this is easily the worst song on AM.  It’s lazy, boring and cheesy.  It feels like a rip off and represents a absence of ideas during the writing phase.

Compare it to ‘Mad Sounds’, which while not stunning, is much more appropriate. It’s not over the top and is received as much more sincere, with scaled back instruments that lets Turner’s vocals shine.  Thankfully the album picks up again towards the end.  ‘Why Do You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ blends high vocal harmonies (well sung by drummer Matt Helders) and lighting quick singing that would make Timberlake smile.  And the poppy ‘Snap Out of It’ perfectly mixes catchy melodies, bouncy beats and witty lyrics; a perfect Arctic Monkeys trademark.

AT‘Fireside’ is truly the surprise kicker.  It instantly throws itself in your face, and the bass riff brings a stabbing energy to the psychedelic rhythm. Combine that with some 80s sounding guitar effects towards the end and you’ve got one of the best songs off the LP.  ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, despite the aforementioned issue with the lyrics, is an engaging closing track.  With the exception of ‘Arabella’, it’s the best of the mellow tracks, and is a fitting parting gift for the listener.

AM could well be the greatest album of the year.  It’s that exciting moment when a band has to re-identify itself, when the gamble is taken and careers live or die.  The Arctic Monkeys won the bet and have set themselves up to pursue a new artistic direction.  The band are set to tour the UK and USA over the next two months, but both Matt Helders and James Cook have both stated that they expect to tour Australia in 2014.

Keep up with the Arctic Monkeys on their website, Facebook and YouTube for exclusive content. The band can also be followed on Twitter if that’s your thing.  Finally, check out the video below for a new track that did not make AM, to the chagrin of many fans.  And who can blame them?

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