Review: Arctic Monkeys – ‘AM’ (2013)

September 9, 2013 7:48 pm

AM is the fifth studio effort from Los Angeles Sheffield-born indie Godfathers Arctic Monkeys, and, as with any album pushed out by a band these days, it’s leaked about two weeks early. But after polarising listeners with a new direction in recent years, does this new record have the same undeniable appeal as the Monkeys’ earlier two? Sort of.

When a rock band says that their new songs sound like Dr. Dre, most people start to worry. Fortunately for the Arctic Monkeys, their successful trips over new horizons on 2009’s Humbug and 2011’s Suck It And See render this more an intriguing prospect than an attempt at musical suicide. While hip-hop’s not really a core influence here, when it’s apparent it does give the record its own smooth texture.

On the whole however, AM sounds like a continuation of Humbug, but Suck It And See‘s crooner-spewed lyricisms and hints of Alex Turner’s Submarine soundtrack play into most of the songs too. As someone who much preferred Humbug‘s sulky melodies, this is of course a plus for me; if you were expecting another go with the guy who, “thinks it’s alright to act like a dickhead” though, you might be sorely disappointed.

Alex and co. kick things off strongly enough; lead single ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ is a slicked-back grower that, if it doesn’t straight away, will get you gyrating your hips to its seductive rhythm on any dancefloor, no matter how disturbing that sounds. Insta-classic ‘R U Mine?’ makes a return from 2012 here too, though offers a completely different take on greased-back swagger: its punchier, Queens of the Stone Age-inspired groove will perhaps be the only luxury for people waiting on a revisit to Sheffield circa 2006.

‘One For The Road’ is one of AM‘s stronger tracks, and is also one of the few heavily inspired by hip-hop – a pattern of traits you’ll find will develop throughout the record. Falsetto harmonies are the foundation here – in fact, they’re thrown around all over the album – as Turner offers some unusually lacklustre lyrics before breaking into a solo not dissimilar to that of ‘Crying Lightning’: “From the bottom of your heart / the relegation zone / I saw this coming from the start / the shake, rattle and roll”. It’s catchy, though, and its fresh rhythm sets it apart from more lacking tracks to come.

AM struggles most in its middle section; most of the central tracks begin to fall flat under the weight of either their blandness or the lack of imagination. ‘I Want It All’ sounds like ‘R U Mine?’ B-side ‘Electricity’, just with a big stomping ‘fuck you’ riff that’s more brawl over brains, and a sort-of-solo that I’m sure I’ve heard on another Monkeys song before. ‘Arabella’ is alright, but Black Sabbath fans will be checking their Spotify to check they’re not listening to a cover of ‘War Pigs’. By the time the tender ‘Mad Sounds’ – with its cute, “ooh la la la”s – and the Last Shadow Puppets-sounding ‘Fireside’ have taken their turns, you’ll be starting to beg for just that little bit more.

Fortunately, the closing tracks are the album’s best. ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ – with its grammatical mistake – and ‘Snap Out Of It’ are the two most Dre-like tracks on AM. The latter is simply melodic, but most importantly, fun, and although it sounds like some previous tracks, it stands above them with ease. Album closer ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ is, too, an affecting love letter in the form of a ballad, addressed not only to the woman who Turner has lusted over for fourty minutes, but to John Cooper Clarke, the poet whose words fill the track’s calm crescendo.

AM is by no means Arctic Monkeys’ best work. Several tracks fall flat and leave you scratching your head toward the end, but there’s also some really great moments on here. Were it to be its own entity, it could be so much sweeter, but Alex Turner hasn’t quite got what ailed him on Suck It And See off his chest yet. The result is an uncertain mix between frail-sounding ditties and some stronger, almost-hip-hop tunes.

Let’s hope for an actual ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ next time around.

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