The first time I saw the Arctic Monkeys play live was on a bone-shakingly cold November evening in Boston in 2011. The club was dark, their sound was heavy, and Alex Turner’s vocals were haunting. This show was part of their tour promoting their 4th studio album, Humbug—a darker and harder album than any they had previously produced. That night showed their ability to try on a Queen’s of the Stone Age style sound while still sticking to their uncompromising, young British rock and roll. Yet, on their latest LP, AM, the Monkeys have changed styles musically, delving into funkier and sharper sounds.
The Monkeys have always been one of the more mercurial acts in rock music over the past decade. Following their overnight fame from their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, they slowly drifted away from their brash punk inspired by the Libertines, in favor of heavier sounds. However, their fifth studio album, AM, still retains much of the heavy sounds of Humbug but with a slicker delivery. The band’s frontman, Alex Turner, aptly described their latest album in an interview with NME, “It sounds like a Dr. Dre beat, but we’ve given it an Ike Turner bowl-cut and sent it galloping across the desert on a Stratocaster.” The album feels as though the Monkeys have left their garage rock style behind in favor of a sharper and groovier style ready for a club in Barcelona, rather than a bar in Sheffield.
The Monkeys have in many ways changed the focus of their records with AM. Their hit song from their debut album, “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor,” explored the fun and romance of a night at the club while their latest song “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” delves into the sad consequences of such a night. Furthermore, the album’s title, “AM”, is almost a reference to the mistakes of the early morning as if the focus has changed from the early evening fun of nightlife to the darker elements of dawn. Again, take the song “No. 1 Party Anthem,” in which Turner describes a young man “on the prowl” in a leather jacket in a club “with lights on the floors and sweat on the walls.” This is no longer the innocent fun of their first record. Yet, the song is a calming, relaxing party anthem if that. Soft piano playing delivers the backing for the song showing today’s modern producers that party anthems don’t have to be loud and obnoxious, but can also be beautiful and gentle as they were in days gone by. The album constantly draws from other rock classics with Sabbath-like guitar riffs and Lennonesque melodies. The Arctic Monkeys are not merely taking from their predecessors, but offering a modern take on classic styles.
One of the album’s highlights, “R U Mine?”, reminds the listener of a previous Monkey’s hit, “Brianstorm,” but with a smoother delivery. Another gem, “Arabella,” sounds like a Wolfmother record tinged with a sense of sexual desire as Turner sings of a girl whose “lips are like the galaxy’s edge and her kiss the colour of a constellation falling into place.”
Turner’s lyrics may be his most introspective yet. The album feels like an hour inside the mind of the frontman as he struggles with common themes of love versus lust, quick pleasure versus lasting devotion. In the final song, “I Wanna be Yours,” Turner dwells on the subject through the lines of famous British punk-poet, John Cooper Clarke, singing that “I want to be your vacuum cleaner, breathing in your dust.” The slow, smooth guitar notes of “I Wanna Be Yours” are the last notes heard on the album leaving the listeners to ruminate for themselves on Turner’s recurring questions. The band that sparked a new generation of British rockers with their young, punk attitude has not failed to amaze on their new LP with their funkier and ever-changing new style.