Domino, September 10 2013
Reviewed by Jon Howard
With four number one albums in the United Kingdom and a rapidly growing fanbase across the pond here in the United States, Arctic Monkeys are under more pressure than ever to continue delivering fresh, well written music with their latest album, simply titled AM. While Arctic Monkeys have always tweaked their musical style between releases, AM often feels like a fair bit more of a departure from their previous work than we’ve become accustomed to. Lead singer Alex Turner has stated in many interviews that AM would draw influence from hip hop, in particular Dr. Dre and Outkast. While the music on the album is still very distinctly Arctic Monkeys, the band’s experimentation with hip hop becomes very clear through Matt Helder’s drumming, such as on the heavy pounding opening track and lead single “Do I Wanna Know?”
Serving as an excellent opener for AM, “Do I Wanna Know?” has a dark, heavy texture and with every beat assures the listener that the Arctic Monkeys aren’t here to mess around. Immediately following is “R U Mine?” a track that was originally released last year and only meant to be a single, but was so loved by the band that they actually based the entire construction of AM around it. The track is by far one of the best on all of AM, and walks the fence between garage rock and psychedelic rock. The result is a blistering rock and roll gem that is unlikely to be matched for quite some time. “Arabella” is a suggestive blues rock affair that seems to draw influence from The Black Keys (and by extension Led Zeppelin), and is sure to be a crowd pleaser during their live shows. Bringing the raw rock energy to a screeching halt is “No. 1 Party Anthem”, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case. The slow rock ballad serves as a needed break for the listener, and Alex Turner’s hallowed, haunted voice just sounds so right with the gentle, almost eerie melody. The not so aptly titled “Mad Sounds” continues the mid-album lull with a softer, dreamier feel, much akin to that of Velvet Underground’s timeless lullaby “Sunday Morning”. While the track is a catchy and well-crafted break from the heavier rock of “R U Mine?” and “Arabella”, the need for another heavy hitting rock track on AM continues to build.
“Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” breaks the lull just in time, steering AM back into darker rock territory. The track is adventurous, rhythmic, and infectious as hell. “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” injects AM with a needed boost of energy, and is a track you just won’t be able to get out of your head. Following “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” is “Snap Out of It”, a stomping yet almost folky rock song that sounds as though it were produced by Danger Mouse rather than James Ford (Simian, Klaxons). While the track is more than pleasant to listen to, it feels a bit underwhelming after the high point of “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High”. The closing track of the album, “I Wanna Be Yours”, shows the band at their more experimental. Driven by a simple, plucking bassline and wandering into spaghetti western territory, the song shows us the kind of bold new direction the Arctic Monkeys could take their music just before AM comes to an end. It’s a fitting track to close the album with; the Arctic Monkeys have changed their style many times, yet there are still so many places the band can take its music. Overall, AM isn’t as much of a game changer as 2011’s Suck It and See, but still shows the Arctic Monkeys experimenting with their sound, yielding largely impressive results. While the album certainly isn’t the band’s best, it’s still a fantastic record and will surely be thought of fondly for decades to come.
Recommended Tracks: “Do I Wanna Know?”, “R U Mine?”, “No. 1 Party Anthem”, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”, “I Wanna Be Yours”