“Are there some aces up your sleeve?” is a curious sentence to hear from a group whose only obvious link between their five-strong discography is the daft name that appears on the sleeves. The only one playing tricks here is Arctic Monkeys, and they’ve pulled more than just an ace out of those sleeves this time – they’ve brought desert dune “wood groove” with lashings of Josh Homme and the spice of a Dr. Dre beat wrapped up in Sabbathy cellophane and T-Rex packaging. An album with inspirations and influences oozing from its very grooves, ‘AM’ (which could’ve been called ‘Tambourines and Falsettos’) should be a mess of cheap pastiche and imitation of the inimitable. And yet…
Even a million miles from home, in absence from the blue collar drudge and uninviting Sheffield nightlife that fuelled ‘Whatever People Say I Am…’s savvy wit, Turner sounds as in touch as ever. As a maverick of the metaphor and an astonishingly aware 27-year-old, the one factor he’s retained – Yorkshire accent or no – throughout his relatively short, yet profoundly varied career, is his rapport with the listener. Remarkably, he’s still grounded enough to notice the intricacies of things like relationships that everyone can relate to, something a surprising amount of airheaded rockstars fall short in achieving these days.
Topically focused, like 2011′s ‘Suck It and See’, on the mystery of the woman, through ‘AM’ Turner recites his quietly observant poetry with a polarised passion; every story could be from a different mouth were it not so obviously him. Furthermore it seems that, like a biscuit left out of the tin too long; Alex’s voice gets softer and softer every time we steal a bite – the words seem to float out of his mouth with such natural wistfulness that you can barely hear the beat of the syllables. And like his voice, the token of any Arctic Monkeys album seems to have become the soft centre of their records – ‘Cornerstone’, ‘Only Ones Who Know’, even ‘Mardy Bum’ to a certain extent – and ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ proves to be a fitting continuation of the trend; painting an “Escher painting” spin on the classic ‘locking eyes across the room’ story that they touched on (albeit more sarcastically) in ‘You Probably Couldn’t See for the Lights But You Were Staring Straight At Me’: “Sipping a drink and laughing at imaginary jokes… her eyes invite you to approach”. Though lyrically there is an impending sense of romantic uncertainty running straight from the off, the pulse-pounding angst in opening stomper ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ sounds worlds apart from the cautious sparkle of I Wanna Be Yours – lifted from a John Cooper Clarke poem.
‘R U Mine? is still the most riotous track they’ve produced in years, but it slots in nicely opposite ‘Knee Socks’ which allows the weighty crunch of its opening riff to pull back and get nice and sleazy; “Never stopped you letting me get hold of the sweet spot by the scruff of your knee socks”. On first listen, the languid harmonies don’t seem to meld quite right against the jagged tune, but revisits show there is a sweetness to Josh Homme’s backdrop guest falsetto’s; they suddenly feel right at home. The album as a whole is indisputably electrifying, yet seems to brush this off its shoulder; as if to understate its own worth in a manner as cool as the band themselves. Perhaps that’s why everything seems richer the second time around when it comes to ‘AM’ – because you pick up on the little things they didn’t want you to notice straight away.
It’s Lennon, it’s Bolan, it’s Osborne, it’s Turner. The underwater intro of ‘Mad Sounds’ could be a lost Jeff Buckley track and ‘I Want It All’ sounds like ‘She’s Lost Control’ on speed. In a moment of glorious austerity at the brink of ‘Fireside’s breakdown, where everything falls away, a synth loop that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Depeche Mode album comes forth – that’s the moment Arctic Monkeys truly mark their new territory. They’ve swapped nights out swapping jumpers with their mates to get into nightclubs for a VIP ticket to the Californian lifestyle, complete with Gatsbian capers at “Fellini dream sequence” parties – and it shows in their new pace and style. The shades, the suits, the Brylcreem explosion that the Monkeys brought home with them perfectly embodies the silky-smooth tone of the record itself. A tambourine-tinged falsetto ghost train of shoo-wops and concrete riffs, ‘AM’ is most certainly ‘One for the Road’ – one that will have you doing a U-turn and coming back for more.
This article was first posted on September 5, 2013