Before diving into a review of the new full-length, AM, one feels it necessary to contextualise it with a look back at the band’s history. Some eight years have passed since the Arctic Monkeys first burst onto the scene, packing a cocktail of punches few have been able to copy full of wit, brashness and a pop sensibility. After their debut came their EP, Who the F*** Are Arctic Monkeys featuring a selection of interesting stories set to similar music, and then the well-known single “Leave Before the Lights Come On”, complete with its memorable video.
Favourite Worst Nightmare continued Turner’s stint as storyteller but focused on themes simultaneously more intimate and broader than late nights in Sheffield, while their musical prowess grew stronger, as showcased on the monstrous “Brianstorm”. On 2009’s Humbug Turner flipped the script lyrically, obfuscating his poetry to the point where much of it became disconnected or barely linked images cobbled together, as in a lot of the respective catalogues of grunge legends Nirvana and the rapper DOOM. Meanwhile, the psychedelic tones that fleshed out much of …Nightmare became a larger aspect of the band’s sound. In 2011 the band’s Suck It and See was released; it was a fine collection of shimmering pop songs that was still dragged down somewhat by lyrics that were more bizarre than ever but featured some awesome one-liners.
In 2012, “R U Mine” was released, rocking almost as hard as Brianstorm. Over a year after the release of that track came the sexy, guitar riff-led “Do I Wanna Know?” and the R&B track “Why’d You [sic] Always Call Me When You’re High?” Those singles feature an American sound which had been found on their more recent works, and are also a considerable distance away from “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”.
And here we have 2013’s album, AM. Its tracks fall into two main categories: rock and pop. Yes, rock is arguably a type of pop, but the two can also be distinguished; thus in this article the word ‘pop’ stands for anything other than that which is traditionally called ‘rock’. Much has been made of the reported saying of Alex Turner that the album “sounds like Dr Dre”. One listen to it reveals this statement to be a gross oversimplification. “Fireside”, in addition to the slower “No. 1 Party Anthem” and “Mad Sounds”, could be tracks from 2009-2011; “Snap Out of It” is a piece of bouncy, catchy, sticks-in-your-head pop; “I Wanna Be Yours” is a slice of dreamy modern soul featuring words from the John Cooper Clarke poem of the same name. There are, however, several ways in which the album does imitate Dre, both quite subtly and more obviously. Some of the drumming on “R U Mine?” evokes somewhat for the careful listener the hard-hitting beats from his Straight Outta Compton days, while the beginning of “One for the Road” and “Arabella” are instantly reminiscent of the Doctor’s 2001 era material.
Now that we’ve established whether or not the album “sounds like Dr Dre”, let’s talk about the album’s positives (including the aforementioned similarity). Although many have attempted to blend rock and rap, not in recorded history, as far as one is aware, has a rock band been able to imitate mainstream hip-hop production so closely and successfully, let alone simultaneously ape chart-topping ‘90s style R&B (particularly in the backing vocals) on top of that. The Arctic Monkeys manage to achieve this feat without it sounding too false, forced or hilariously bad. Furthermore, the album delves into a variety of other styles that I have already mentioned, making the record well-rounded and innovative yet at the same time backward looking, but not regressive because of that. That’s what good about the music. Lyrics-wise, Turner’s writing is more cohesive, less obscure and not so bizarre.
David J. Lownds