After opting to swap their rollicking onslaught of Whatever People Say I Am… and Favourite Worst Nightmare‘s bass-heavy indie rock for a more methodical one with even heavier bass, Arctic Monkeys tested the staying power of their fans in 2009 with Humbug. Two years later and they continue that constant machine of progression with latest release Suck It And See.
Judging by teaser track “Brick By Brick” and first single “Don’t Sit Down, ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair,” you would be forgiven for thinking we were about to witness 40 minutes of mindless psychedelia and frivolous rock ‘n’ roll. Thankfully, these two numbers couldn’t be much further from the rest of the album.
The Sheffield lads kick off with an eerie guitar line reminiscent of Humbug, moving quickly away from anything we might have been expecting. We sweep into a fifties diner owned by Morrissey as first track “She’s Thunderstorms” envelops with metallic reverb. Second track “Black Treacle” sounds like it’s coming out of a gramophone that’s trapped in the wardrobe, echoed guitar washing over Turner’s vocals as he doles out the sort of urban poetry we’ve grown to expect from him.
Does it tune you in when you chew your chin?
Am I ruining your fun?
And I tried last night to pack away your laugh,
like a key under the mat.
But it never seems to be there when you want it.
Although James Ford took the helm once more (he produced the boys’ first two albums and some of their third), the spirit of Josh Homme (producer of third album Humbug) lives on. This is no more prevalent than with the sweeping paranoia of “Library Pictures” and the new romantic desert rock of “All My Own Stunts.” Homme even makes an appearance on backing vocals at points.
As many hits as there are, the Arctics slip up more noticeably here than on previous records. “Brick By Brick,” while having a pleasant enough rock ‘n’ roll jig to it, is complete filler. “Reckless Serenade” is warm with twinkling guitar, sugary backing vocals and typically descriptive lines from Turner (“The type of kisses where teeth collide”). However, awkward chord changes pull the rug from under some of his more embarrassingly basic lyrics that have no business being on an Arctic Monkeys record (“Called up to listen to the voice of reason and got his answering machine”).
Still, there is a lot to love about this album – Jamie Cook’s pensive guitar work being a major draw. Turner’s lyric writing may seem to have taken a turn for the lazy, but Cook’s guitar work has evolved in leaps and bounds. Unashamedly drawing from Johnny Marr’s songbook, Cook takes all the best bits and makes them his own – like on the wispy, bittersweet melody of “Piledriver Waltz”: a teary-eyed slow-dance number that could make even the most heartless among us cry like a little puppy.
While the album’s title track and “Love Is A Laserquest” do little to perk up our ears (however brilliantly-titled the latter might be), final number “That’s Where You’re Wrong” pulls the whole thing back together. With large helpings of The Smiths and indie rock romance, it’s as if the boys have reworked their first record’s ender “A Certain Romance” and then got James to perform it. A glorious, triumphant close that just about throws any previous slip-up to the wind.
This album is a grower. When these lads said “suck it and see”, they meant it. Much like how the Beastie Boys reacted after inadvertently attracting the jock crowd with their Licensed To Ill album, the Arctics have shied away from producing another record for the ever-drunken, lad-rock Oasis crowd. For anyone who likes to keep dry during a gig rather than covered in booze and punched in the face, this is good news. However, you can’t help but feel that these boys could have left a good deal out and we’d still be happy.
With any luck, this is a transition phase. There are smatterings of brilliance here, but we may need to wait for album number five before we can once again be blown away.