The day Alex Turner emerged with his new 50s-inspired quiff, the world turned on its axis. An undeniable shift had occurred, musically at least, from Alex Turner: the boy, to Alex Turner: the man.
With a few snips of a barber’s scissors and a handful of Brylcreem, the whole style of Arctic Monkeys’ live performances changed, Turner’s lyrical outlook became much more overtly masculine and mature, and the music itself has grown into what really feels like the beginning of a new era for the band.
Now it would be foolish to suggest all this change happened just because of one haircut. On the contrary, this evolution has been in the making for years. ‘AM’ would not be the album it is had it not been for the hurried nature of ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, the purposeful move away to the desert with ‘Humbug’, and the major key melody-focus of ‘Suck It and See’. The band’s whole existence has been building up to this record, and that is what has led it to be so stunning.
Now, we’ve already heard AM’s thudding opening track, ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, as well as the hip hop grooves of latest single, ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’, while ‘R U Mine?’ (if you haven’t heard this by now – where have you been?!) has almost singlehandedly shaped the entire mind set of the LP.
The best thing is these tunes we’ve already heard are only the tip of the iceberg, as far as the genius of ‘AM’ is concerned. ‘One For The Road’ for example, snakes and creeps its way through bags of Helders/O’Malley falsetto, into a chorus containing lines such as “So we all go back to yours and you sit and talk to me on the floor/ There’s no need to show me around baby, I feel like I’ve been here before”. It all rolls off Alex Turner’s tongue so effortlessly, before an equally smooth guitar solo takes centre stage.
‘Arabella’ continues in a similar vein, with the masculine observation of “that little lady sitting in the passenger side” backed by choppy guitars and a swirling solo – it’s clear to see by this point the raw attitude that Arctic Monkeys have channelled from ‘R U Mine?’.
However, ‘AM’ is not just all about the rushes of testosterone – Alex Turner has also perfected the craft of ‘less being more’ on several occasions.
The ironically-titled ‘No.1 Party Anthem’ ranks as one of the greatest moments of not just this album, but of Arctic Monkeys’ entire musical catalogue. Ringing loudly of Turner’s work on the ‘Submarine’ soundtrack, its subtle instrumentation, pinned behind lyrics describing that yearning for a ‘party anthem’ to come on at a party so you can make your move, somehow works perfectly. “So you’re on the prowl, wondering whether she left already or not/ Leather jacket, collar popped like Cantona/ Sunglasses indoors, par for the course/ Lights in the floors and sweat on the walls” – these couplets may not seem like heartfelt poetry on paper, but with the climatic music arrangement, it just works.
‘Mad Sounds’ is another slower song about those tunes that “make you get up and dance”. It ranks high in the melodic-ometer, and its final minute is packed with so many repetitions of “ooh la la la”, that you just know it’s going to be one of those ‘raise your lighter in the air’ songs.
Things take a more upbeat turn on ‘Snap Out Of It’, which again features prominent falsetto, before the finale of ‘I Wanna Be Yours’. Featuring those John Cooper Clarke lines (“I wanna be your vaccum cleaner, breathing in your dust/ I wanna be your Ford Cortina, I will never rust”), the focus is a little too much on accommodating the words rather than the music, and this just holds back what should be a climatic ending, but which ends up being quite a quiet sign-off.
This is hands down the most unpredictable record Arctic Monkeys have ever produced. There are so many dimensions to ‘AM‘, you may wonder if you’ve gone into a different world altogether, with atmosphere being carefully maintained throughout.
Where will Arctic Monkeys go next? One can only hazard a guess, but one thing is for sure: the new era is only just beginning.
Watch the NSFW video for Why Do You Only Call Me When You’re High?:
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