Arctic Monkeys bassist Nick O’Malley is one of the best in the game. His invariably strong basslines glue the whole operation together, pulling in the dynamism of drummer Matt Helders, the floating vocal melodies of Alex Turner, and the hooky riffs of guitarist Jamie Cook.
An unassuming individual, O’Malley is precisely the type of character you need as a bass player. Ice-cool and unflappable, in the live setting he’s the least likely of the quartet to slip up, a low-end ballast of the rarest kind, and together with Matt Helders, he helps to create one of the finest rhythm sections in contemporary rock. The introduction of O’Malley helped the band to take their music to the next level, and assisted in facilitating the various stylistic shifts that the band has enacted over the years.
Born in Sheffield in 1985, O’Malley first picked up the bass at the age of 16, after his initial ambitions of playing the guitar and drums were rejected by his father. However, he eventually found his way to the bass, and prior to joining Arctic Monkeys, he cut his teeth playing the well-respected local garage rockers The Dodgems.
Famously, O’Malley’s first convergence with Arctic Monkeys came when he was invited to play with the band as a temporary replacement for original bassist Andy Nicholson, after he had declared that he would not be making their North American tour in May 2006 for personal reasons. Working at Asda at the time, O’Malley said later that he learnt the whole of the band’s debut album in two intense days of playing where he “pretty much didn’t even leave the house“.
O’Malley’s first show with the band was on 25th May, at a secret gig at the historic Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, London. A 120-capacity venue, the band used the show as a chance for O’Malley to familiarise himself with their fanbase before the band’s first date on the tour in Vancouver, Canada on 27th May, and a string of subsequent festival dates where they would be performing to up to 20,000 people.
O’Malley’s tenure in the band was only expected to last until Nicholson decided to come back to the fold, however, Nicholson eventually left that band permanently. Displaying his calm demeanour, when looking back on the time he joined the band, O’Malley told Q TV, “It never felt like such a big pressure thing.”
O’Malley’s first appearance on record with Arctic Monkeys came on the August 2006 single ‘Leave Before the Lights Come On’, and the rest was history. Since then, the band have tried their hand at disparate genres from desert rock to lounge pop, and he’s been there for all of it.
Duly, we’ve listed Nick O’Malley’s six best basslines as we feel that it’s time he gets the recognition he deserves.
Nick O’Malley of Arctic Monkeys’ best basslines:
‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)
One thing is clear, Nick O’Malley’s bass playing has got better as he’s gotten older, and across the band’s last album, 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, he provided many basslines that all aspiring four-string players would do well to take note of. Holding together Alex Turner’s spacey vision for the album, without O’Malley’s work, it wouldn’t have been the stellar return that it was. One of his best moments is undoubtedly the title track.
O’Malley’s work here is something akin to what you find on Gene Clark’s legendary cosmic opus No Other, blending funk and rock ‘n’ roll into a pulsating groove that has you nodding along in glee, and pressing repeat naturally.
‘Four Out Of Five’ – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)
Another moment from the band’s last record, O’Malley carries this other highlight with his ice-cool grooves. One of his most atmospheric basslines, it complements the themes of Turner’s lyrics perfectly, helping commentators to find similarities with everyone from David Bowie to King Crimson and even Jim O’Rourke.
As the song reaches its crescendo, with the various dynamics and textures fading in and out, O’Malley is its beating heart, allowing Turner and Co. to get really celestial.
‘Brianstorm’ – Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)
A timeless cut, it was on with ‘Brianstorm’ and Favourite Worst Nightmare that Arctic Monkeys showed to all of us that they weren’t a one-trick pony. The album’s lead single, ‘Brianstorm’ saw that band get frenetic, and whilst it struck a more sinister tone than anything they’d done before, it was celebrated for the excellence of both Helders and O’Malley.
Whilst it is Helders who often gets the limelight for his performance on ‘Brianstorm’, O’Malley sets the tone for the entire piece. Busy and dynamic, it was on this track that O’Malley showed us what he was all about.
‘Crying Lightning’ – Humbug (2009)
Not only is ‘Crying Lighting’ one of the band’s finest songs, but it also features one of O’Malley’s strongest basslines. Taking the darkness to another level, building on the foundations set on Favourite Worst Nightmare, as Turner delivers his narrative about ice-cream men and pastimes as well as an incredibly busy riff, O’Malley keeps the ship steady.
During the chorus, solo, and breakdown, his low end is so deep that you knew what was to follow on the album was to be the band’s most sinister yet, helping them to reach the next chapter in their career. A masterclass in simple but effective bass playing, here O’Malley shines.
‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ – Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)
The other of Nick O’Malley’s best basslines from the group’s sophomore album is also the most complex you’ll find on that body of work. Funky and evoking flecks of Motown, the guitars dovetail with it, as he crosses almost every inch of the fretboard, providing what is also one of his most emotive moments, as the “where did you go?”, part attests.
On ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ we hear the warm, picked sound of O’Malley’s Rickenbacker, and it adds an extra dimension to Helders’ beat, helping to thicken the plinky rhythm. In some ways, you can hear the earliest flecks of his work to come on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino on this track.
‘One Point Perspective’ – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)
Arguably Nick O’Malley’s best bass performance, ‘One Point Perspective’ is the culmination of everything that came before it, and as soon as he comes in, you understand that these days he is a veteran of the bass guitar, as he delivers something that channels the work of ’60s legends such as James Jamerson.
Another emotive bassline, it shifts with the track, supporting the rest of the instrumentation to create this heady form of lounge pop that has us so excited for the future of Arctic Monkeys. O’Malley’s work here is so good that even if you listened to the isolated track of his bass it would be akin to being wrapped up in a bundle of cotton. It’s in no rush and leaves room for everything around it to swirl and take us into the cosmos.