Album Review: Arctic Monkeys AM

I’m going to be honest here: I haven’t listened to the Arctic Monkeys in a few years. Back in the day I had my fun with Everything They Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. I did my head banging, and then put down the headphones and decided that this was a safe band to take my eye off of. I talked about them and heard them on the radio, but I was altogether complacent in the idea that they would stay that same band from 2006 forever.

So you can imagine my shock to put in their new album, AM, and find that—holy crap—the Arctic Monkey grew up. It’s still the same band, definitely, but they’ve matured and refined their sound into one that’s darker, thicker, and a great deal more focused than their previous work. This is an album with a sense of substance to it.

It’s a hard change to pinpoint, but it really seems to come down to what the music is made for; I Bet you Look good On the Dance Floor era Monkeys was, at its very core, music you flip a police van to. It was channeling wild, carefree rage that wholeheartedly encouraged you to headbutt the bouncer of your favorite bar. This was music for rioting (the fun kind, not the scary kind).

So what’s the music of AM for, if not that? Well this is an educated guess, but I’m fairly certain this is music for getting it on; the sort of on-getting that involves opening a nice bottle of wine, to be specific. If you’re on a date and No 1 Party Anthem comes on, well, you are about to have a very specific sort of party. And the fact that the album is lyrically centered on the themes of drug withdrawal and nasty breakups only makes their ability to weave a pervasive sense of lust into it all the more impressive.

And for a new direction, they really make it work. AM has this intense, grim sense of “cool” to it. Old Arctic Monkeys was definitely fun, but somewhat unfocused and prone to lapses into the mundane when the screaming was finished (looking at you, “Favourite Worst Nightmare”). New Arctic Monkeys put out an album completely sans screaming, and against all intuition, the music got better. They took the weakest part of their sound, made themselves completely dependent on it, and then refined it into something that can melt clothes off of people. I don’t know what happened; maybe sometime in the last year Alex Turner was bitten by a radioactive Barry White. But for whatever reason, the band can do mellow now, and they can do it better than they did excitement.

A lot of the credit for this shift working definitely belongs to the bassist Nick O’Malley. He’s never particularly jumped out in past albums, but he freakin’ builds something in AM. This is a bass line is you could drive a car on; it’s so potent that it comes across as almost tangible. The bass definitely takes priority over the guitar in this album, but what makes it work is how it never gets out of sync with Turners vocals for even a second; it’s almost like having Leonard Cohen sing backup through the whole album.

So now the Arctic Monkeys have established that they’re anything but a one trick band and their recent effort to push into new genres has paid off handily. The question at hand is, will they stick with the sound of AM for future albums, exploring it while risking stagnation? Or are they going to keep playing with the definition of what kind of band Arctic Monkeys is?

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  1. Pingback: With A Little Help From Brian Wilson, Mini Mansions Deliver All The Feels - Rock On Philly

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