In 2006 when the Arctic Monkeys released their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Alex Turner and his bandmates embodied the cliché Brit-pop persona by channeling The Beatles while simultaneously spinning sharp, post-punk narratives of reckless youth. This was our first glimpse into the band’s successful genre-blending and a foretelling of what was to come.
The fifth album from the Arctic Monkeys, AM, could not have cultivated from anything other than What People Say I Am. In fact, each each album in the band’s forever evolving discography would become a stepping stone for AM– even the band’s fourth album, the misfiring Suck It And See. Despite its lack of spark that we had grown accustomed to in regards to the Arctics, Suck It And See was not devoid of Turner’s lyrical gems. Before the femme fatale on AM‘s first single, “R U Mine?” was a “silver lining lone ranger riding through an open space”, she was “loop the looping” around Turner’s mind. “Her motorcycle boots give me this acrobatic blood/ concertina cheating heart beat.” he crooned on Suck It‘s “She’s Thunderstorms”.
Dark romanticism has always been a prominent theme for Turner and lyrically on AM, that doesn’t change. Present on the album is his impeccable talent for detailing a relate-able and ordinary situation by constructing elaborate imagery with a Yorkshire drawl that is never lost among the other aspects of the music. However, immediately on album opener, “Do I Wanna Know?” the Black Keys-esque, Americana tinged guitar riffs indicate stylistic changes. Matt Helders’ signature frenetic drumming is subdued to a thick, pulsating tempo that propels Turner’s tale of cynical love- “ever thought of calling when you’ve had a few? ’cause I always do/ Maybe I’m too busy being yours to fall for someone new.”
With help from Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, the Arctic Monkeys take experimentation to the highest level on AM. Alongside Helders’ structural drumming rather than driving drumming, there are falsetto embellishments and 90’s G-Funk bass. From pairing Led Zeppelin and hip hop influences on “Arabella” to a John Lennon reminiscent, slow burning, deceptively named “No. 1 Party Anthem” to “Mad Sounds”, a bluesy ballad that is very much Favourite Worst Nightmare‘s “Only Ones Who Know”‘s older, matured sibling. It’s retro Brit-rock at its most American rockabilly tied up with a hip-hop bassline bow, without seeming chaotic or in-cohesive.
AM exceeds its older counterparts in experimentation and flaunts the Arctic’s versatility; its exploration of new territories knocks down any remaining boundaries restricting the band. It is the most momentous album in the Arctic Monkey’s catalog to date but AM does not complete the band’s evolution. The best from Alex Turner and the boys is yet to come.