Monday, 16 September 2013

"Old dog, new tricks": AM reviewed

Although the title, artwork and colour scheme of Arctic Monkey's fifth studio album is the definition of simplicity, the content which will grace your speakers and earphones in pure, cigarette-smoking, leather jacket-adorned style is as far from this suggestion as is possible.

AM, which has been the talking point for months before it even had a name, is, truthfully, one of the most emotional, powerful and downright terrifying albums you will ever listen to. To avoid the cliché 'it is like a drug', it has to be described as utterly scarring; you will remember the first time you listened to it, you will repeat the hooks and riffs in your head, you will be unable to resist the temptation to sing verses as loud as possible when you are alone, and you will always wish to have it with you, for the hours you are separated are spent wishing you were reunited with Arctic Monkeys' finest album yet.

There are reviews of AM which leaf through the tracks the like a bored literature student flicking through the pages of a novel they do not understand, orderly and dutifully. In this way, the songs are isolated, abandoned and not appreciated as all embracing to form a momentous forty minute roller coaster which has your emotions up the wall one moment, and round the bend the next; it is the jagged and uncertain line a Richter Scale leaves upon the paper when recording one hell of an earthquake, as the Arctic Monkeys, despite being from Yorkshire, are no ground tremor anymore. It is not to be divided into 12, and should be enjoyed and savoured in that manner as one complete, genuine, artistic masterpiece. The time in between the opening beat of Do I Wanna Know?, and the haunting vocals which conclude I Wanna Be Yours, is the most unforgettable musical journey available.
Arctic Monkeys - I Wanna Be Yours (acoustic)
AM is such a powerful album that it bookmarks the band's transition from 'great' to 'greatest'

Speaking of Do I Wanna Know?, the band's first single from the album has been gifted a new lease of life, rejuvenating its eardrum-walloping drum-power from Matt Helders to initiate the album to the listener; the epic climax of the song, in which Turner's voice and the backing vocals of Helders and Nick O'Malley truly intertwine in a Jamie Cook guitar-charged explosion for the first time, is enough to send the most anticipating of shivers down one's spine. This truly is music in 3D.

The conclusion of the slightly out of place (it is a landmark for the transition between Suck It And See and AM) yet still wonderful R U Mine?, which sounds as fresh as ever, and is another well documented single thus far, leads seamlessly into the first 'new' music on the album. One For The Road; a dark and lyrically inspiring three minutes and twenty six seconds of music that uses the backing vocals to great effect. The R&B influence is obvious, and Turner's lyrics, namely a section from the opening verse: "The cracks in the blackout blinds cast patterns on the ceiling/But you're fine/I thought it was dark outside", feels like an extract from a gothic novel and a little uncomfortable; it is the grimy, tense and secondary introduction to the evolution that Arctic Monkeys have had their sights set on since Humbug, many moons ago.

And here it comes; right on the tail of One For The Road, the mysterious and metaphorical wonder-woman that is Arabella seductively struts into one's ears, parading her "interstellagator skin boots". Probably the track which, by simultaneously defining the word 'cool', will most likely inspire a moment of convulsions and air guitar routines on the dance-floor, it oozes experience and expertise in addition to Alex Turner's hair wax, effortlessly building up to a majestic guitar solo which will leave ears tingling with awe and a slight affection (or longing) for Arabella's constellation-coloured lips.

Again, the eardrum-pounding is in full swing throughout I Want It All, a masterful flex of the muscles of the Sheffield band which, unfortunately, is a song that may be bypassed and underrated by some, and yet it provides an slightly differing yet integral angle for AM to turn on its short course. The backing vocals utter a menacing cry "shoo-wop, shoo-wop, shoo-wop", hereby creating a track which has been dubbed as the most 'glam-rock' the Monkeys have ever heard by some.

"One, two, three, four", croaks Alex as he turns the key in the ignition of AM's most tear-jerking, bi-polar song; No. 1 Party Anthem is such a powerful creation that adds spectacularly and invaluably to the course of the journey through the album. An odd blend of Piledriver Waltz (and Turner's Submarine soundtrack in general, to be fair) and elements from Suck It And See that is a leather-clad descendant of Cornerstone, it is simply captivating. Following the first time of listening, the emotive 'roller coaster' description of the Monkeys' masterpiece is incredibly appropriate for this ballad, as it will leave you either on a new high, or alternatively wondering how your already drained emotions can possibly pick up and prepare for the remainder of what is to come: "come on, come on, come on..." the lyrics tempt. This is the most unforgiving of moments to stop listening considering what lies ahead, and yet, if it all ended here, it would still be the perfect album.

If you were feeling a little stranded following the dramatic come-down that No. 1 Party Anthem expertly crafts, there could be no better pick up than Mad Sounds, a hypnotic and almost melancholy moment at times that only hits you with a gentle "Ooo la la la" to "make you get up"; it feels like a mini-resurrection following the sheer out-of-this-world shivering feeling that possess you following the climax of No. 1 Party Anthem. Chilled, lazy and relaxed, Mad Sounds is undoubtedly the perfect song to bridge the album into two parts, creating a bridge and momentary breathing space from the addictive intensity from the remainder of the album.

The gentle return to the speeds and smell of burnt rubber of the pre-Party Anthem side of the album, however, have been cut short; if Turner really and truly started the car with said track, then, by the time Fireside initiates itself with your ears, the car is hurtling along the road, with much smoke in its wake. It relies on AM's trusted conventions as well as straying from what is familiar at times, as the rhythm creeps into your head, sits down, crosses its legs and folds its arms, and refuses to budge for days, leaving a compelling urge to listen to it again as soon as possible.

Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?, yet another question posed to a lyrical construct, proved a popular single, and it feels crafted with the charts in mind. Featuring the friendliest and most relatable hook, this is a single which will persuade any non-Arctic Monkeys fan into booking a date with Arabella (warn them they'll be paying), and potentially getting to know the family. It proves a moment of further transition on the album, moving up another gear between what went before and the breath-taking trilogy to conclude; a small collection of songs which round the record off in perfect, undeniable style, which alternates between the Monkeys' past, present and future.

Kicking off the conclusion, Snap Out Of It, a rocking, drummer's fantasy, is almost gunshot-like within the baseline, the bang-bang-bang-bang mirroring Alex's "Snap. Out. Of. It.", and the pulsating rhythm leaving you wondering exactly how you lived without this album. It just so happens that Cornerstone appears to be knitted into the very fabric of the latter stages of the song, alerting what is, truly, a near-classic and goosebump-provoking Arctic Monkeys track, despite it being very much one that will unfortunately not stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Alex Turner's lyrical prowess has elevated him to a unique status
Imagine the previous song on a reflective form of steroid, bring in the standout backing vocals on the album, and couple it, hand in hand, with Snap Out Of It and the last track on the album, and you have a sensual few minutes which features Alex's favourite moment of AM; several drunken, slow and precious seconds which acts as the calm before the storm. Unlinked most storms however, you want to throw yourself into this one; not for a second would you wish to run away. Josh Homme's involvement in Knee Socks indicates just how perfectly crafted this creation is, and appears in the aforementioned uncomfortable stage which leaves his voice trailing off in a haunting, disturbing and soulful cry, setting up the finale in a perfect manner.

What comes next, and also finally, is an opening which induces a strolling, poetic laziness; the wish to lounge about into about into the early hours of an intoxicated Sunday morning. It feels as if it has a funeral song touch to it; certainly, it adds a dash of mourning and melancholy to an otherwise passion-filled album. Although, the Sheffield twang is careful to remind the world that Arctic Monkeys are fulfil the song's runing metaphor of being, for example, a "'leccy metre" which will "never run out". John Cooper-Clarke's original poem I Wanna Be Yours has been expertly tweaked, and a chorus has been added to stitch together a harrowing ending to an album which leaves the listener unsure of whether to be spooked by the inevitable silence that proceeds when the dramatic vocals come to a close, or to be inspired by it.

Although the above is in chronological order, it is worth enforcing that by no means should the tracks be considered as individuals; even breaking it down, it is more like a collection of four trilogies than 12 individual songs; and yet it is also rather inter-textual, especially with the likes of Queens Of The Stone-Age frontman Josh Homme, former Coral guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones, the inspiration of drummer Pete Thomas and the unique words of John Cooper-Clarke.

It's not just Arabella who takes a "sip out of your soul", it's the whole mature album; the inspirationally crafted, lyrically perfect, R&B inspired, 'fuck it' attitude that has come together to form an album which just simply flows in a manner which makes it superior and unrivalled, for Arctic Monkeys are their own band now; they have elevated themselves into musical idols, exempt from any genre and catchments which can tie a band down into popular conformity. They have paved the way for a future which is beyond comprehension and, appropriately, quite terrifying; if this is only the beginning, then only God knows what comes next.

Arctic Monkeys have surpassed expectation, Alex Turner is an established lyrical genius and what lies ahead can only, somehow, be better. And whatever that may be, it all started with the unforgettable AM.

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