Arctic Monkeys didn’t have second album syndrome, as many bands do. Nor did they fall flat on their third or fourth, and AM, their latest offering, is as solid as any other. It’s possibly the best since the first two classics, and it’s almost definitely the most anticipated since number two, Favourite Worst Nightmare, thanks to the way they owned Glastonbury this year.
Starting with the June single Do I Wanna Know?, it immediately feels like we’re in safe but exciting hands. The opening stomps as Arctic Monkeys have never stomped before, which ties in perfectly with the giant, memorable guitar riff. This song also introduces the sleazy character that permeates through the album in both the seductively swirling guitars and its talk of alcohol and girls.
R U Mine?, the first single from the album, is similarly unrelenting, and feels dark and dirty in the best possible way, although the lyrics are actually quite uniquely romantic. Recent release Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? is at lot less romantic, chronicling the tale of only getting in touch with someone after a big night out. Its chorus is probably the catchiest on the record, with the title line easy to sing along to with a rise and fall shape that is a much-needed hook after the more understated verses, as well as another stomping opening and blurrier, less defined instrumentals.
Other than these three excellent singles, the band have shown their continuing innovation in their use of guest musicians throughout the album. In return for Alex Turner’s contribution to Queens Of The Stone Age’s Like Clockwork, Josh Homme contributes backing vocals on Knee Socks and One For The Road. Most notably, the latter includes a falsetto above the main vocals throughout that creates an eerie harmony and adds a whole extra dimension to the mood.
Bill Ryder-Jones (formerly of The Coral) also pops up, playing guitar on Fireside; although it’s the album’s least memorable song, this jangly guest part really pulls everything else along and so Bill certainly seems a natural fit.
Altogether, AM seems an album of two halves: the first half (primarily the first five songs) is forever driving forward, and barely lets up as Alex Turner growls about such intertwined subjects as an alluring and intriguing woman (Arabella) and desperately wanting something that’s over (I Want It All).
Conversely, the second half is slightly more thoughtful and relaxed (the main exception of which is Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?). No. 1 Party Anthem is not a party anthem itself, but the tale of the significance of such a song in someone’s life; as such it’s slower, statelier and more musically profound than earlier songs. Mad Sounds is equally more tender than you might think, contemplating the use of music and dancing.
Snap Out Of It constrasts nicely with this part of the album, with its staccato, four-to-the-floor beats and more domineering tone, as it tells someone off exactly as the title would suggest. I Wanna Be Yours strips the band right down again to finish the album, a thinly veiled love song that encompasses all sorts of modern metaphors including “let me be your ‘leccy meter and I’ll never run out.”
There’s so much more I could say about AM, and yet there’s no need. Everything about it feels somehow totally self-explanatory and yet filled with enigma. Every song gives the essence of being completely natural, but the genre twists and structures are also often unpredictable. Arctic Monkeys have announced themselves as one of the best bands in the world right now, but they’ll never make it easy for us to put them in a box.