Released on this day in 2011, we thought the anniversary was the perfect time to catch up with Arctic Monkeys’ fourth studio album, Suck It and See. Rather than sit back and heap praise on the record, we instead decided to set ourselves the challenge of ranking the songs worst to best.
The album was produced alongside the band’s longtime collaborator James Ford and was recorded at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles. It saw Ford and drummer Matt Helders look to turn things around from the darker corners of their previous release Humbug and look to deliver a more “instant”, “poppy”, and “vintage” sound.
The album may have been a move towards the glossier side of music and the bright lights of Los Angeles, which had become a part of the band’s lexicon but it had a hard time hitting the shelves. The album’s provocative title may have been based on the English idiom of trying something out before you speak about it, but in the US, things didn’t go well.
Frontman Alex Turner remembered: “They think it is rude, disrespectful and they’re putting a sticker over it in America in certain stores, big ones.”
Suck It and See went straight to number one in the UK and extended their run as one of the most important British bands of the last 20 years.
Below we rank the songs from that record from worst to best.
Arctic Monkeys’ Suck It and See ranked:
One of Alex Turner’s crowning achievements is undoubtedly the score he wrote for the 2011 film Submarine. A few of those ideas and concepts found their way to Suck It and See, Turner remembered, “This one is on the Submarine soundtrack although I didn’t write it specifically for that. I had a couple of things lying around that were too quiet to be Monkeys tunes — well, that’s what I thought, anyway.”
Adding: “So I said, what about these and Richard liked them. But then we were putting this together and I really thought it might fit in with ‘Thunderstorms’ and ‘Suck It and See.’ So we thought why not just do another version.”
The new beefed up sound with the band’s full backing turned their song into something new.
The opening track to the album is always meant to be special and this one clearly has a place in Turner’s heart. “I remember writing this one when there was a storm going on. They get like mad storms over there [in New York], like, apocalyptic.”
He added: “I’m always trying to think of different interesting ways to like describe somebody but compliment them too. So in that one, I like the idea that she’s not even a thunderstorm, she’s more than one. I quite like the fact she’s plural. ‘Thunderstorms’ meaning just, y’know, awesome!”
‘Brick By Brick’
It may well have been given away as a free release and acted as their announcement video but for some reason ‘Brick By Brick’ never truly landed with their audience. Even Matt Helders confirmed that the song wouldn’t be the lead single.
Turner said of the song’s conception: “We were in Miami on tour once and we just got off a long flight to there and we had an idea for a song called ‘Brick by Brick’ and so we wrote it that night just sorta in a bar. But it was quite loose, we thought about it as the concept of a song and all these things that you want to do– brick by brick– and we just made a list of them that was probably three times as long as what it ended up over that night and the next few weeks.”
Quite possibly one of Alex Turner’s strangest set of lyrics sees the singer lose himself in a whole new world. He told NME of the song: “This is one where I definitely think the words are taking a backseat. It’s just about chaos. Like, all the sound of it — all the music and guitars and drums — everything’s just barmy and I’m trying to make the lyrics subscribe to that as well.”
The song’s jovial personality is down to one fact it would seem: “We recorded it one day like really hungover and had a great day. It were a really good hangover, like a giddy one.” We all know those.
‘All My Own Stunts’
Much of the band’s previous record Humbug was recorded with Queens fo the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme and the singer returned in 2011 to lend back up vocals to the track, “He came down one night and did his very masculine falsetto that he manages to do somehow”, remembered Turner.
The band also share a brief clip of a song about their hometown: “At the end you hear a little snippet of this song we were making up while we in the studio there called ‘I’m From High Green’ which is where we’re from,” said Turner.
“It was summat we were singing quite a lot, the four of us, while we were there.”
A simple track with a simple premise the song landed as one of the final releases form the new album and has been played during countless live sessions. It allows Turner to pick up his guitar and turn into a singer-songwriter for just a few moments.
Lyrically it sees Turner once again establish his visceral style but this time with a Hollywood gleam that had so far been unmatched. Turner was clearly living the LA life and loving every minute of it.
‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’
The first single released form the 2011 album saw the Arctic Monkeys make a clear point that they were about to exert yet more dominance on the rock and roll scene. The song sees Turner muse what ridiculous and dangerous things you could do.
Turner spoke to the NME about the track: “I said it to somebody whose chair I’d moved and I didn’t want them to hurt themselves. This was while we were in the studio doing the Submarine recording.”
He continued: “James said, ‘Oh that sounds like it could be a ’60s garage ‘Nuggets’ tune and be called that. So then we thought, ‘Well, OK if that’s what you can’t do (sit down because your chair has been moved), then what sort of ridiculous things can you do that probably more dangerous than if you just sit down?'”
During the recording of Suck It and See Alex Turner had become a little obsessed with watching old Wester films and the singer used their idyllic setting as the basis for some of his songs. “I watched a couple of westerns when we were doing this, like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, which gets a reference in there.”
But it wasn’t just old movies that interested Turner, “I also just wanted to put ‘belly-button piercings’ in a tune, I thought that would be good. I’d kind of wanted to do it for a couple of weeks and then managed to fit it in there. Why? I’d not thought about them for a while and they came on my radar somehow. And then I thought about this thing of them and the stars being juxtaposed.”
‘Suck It And See’
The title track always needs to be a big puncher and the Sheffield band didn’t disappoint on this one. Famed for the line: “You’re rarer than a can of dandelion & burdock/And the other girls are just post-mix lemonade,” which typified Turner’s ability to turn the everyday into something spectacular.
Turner remembered of the song: “It just sort of came to me that melody and chorus, it’s quite Beach Boys-y which is something I’ve been listening to a lot recently, and always have. We decided to make it the title track quite near the end.”
‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’
Easily the winner of the best song title, this track ranks highly for its beautiful harmonies and touching tone. It’s naturally a confounding set of lyrics by design, as Turner refuses to paint any picture too clearly.
“There’s always a load of words in our tunes, isn’t there,” remembered Turner, speaking the NME. “And I was trying to think of a way of being a bit more economical, so we thought the one way of doing that is having really simple choruses but quite complicated verses lyrically — and that were one of them. I mean it’s based on a place that I’ve been but I don’t necessarily want that to be what the listener associates it with.
“‘Cause maybe they can relate it to a place they’ve been. I don’t want to ruin that by giving them a map.”
The song will go down as one the band’s finest moments.
‘Love Is A Laserquest’
‘Love Is A Laserquest’ once again puts Turner’s powerful wit in the spotlight. The singer uses his expert poetic eye to draw vivid visuals for the track allowing the listener to lose themselves in this number.
Written about a hopeless romantic who can never seem to land the crucial cupid laser hit on their intended target, the song is a wonderfully underrated love song. Filled with all the teenage emotion of unrequited love, Turner and the band once again prove they are as capable of tenderness as they are thunderstorms.
‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’
The best song on the album is always up for debate but there’s something so perfect about ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ that we don’t think we will find many who disagree with us.
The track is simple and purposeful, using a powerful two chords to push the rhythm to the max. “It were all about having the words not get in the way of this one. That were one of the last ones we did when we were in London before Christmas. We did it in one day,” Turner told NME.
“For a while I didn’t have words for that,” he continues, “I was just singing ‘Edge and Bono.’ There’s a demo of it somewhere where it’s mostly ‘Edge and Bono.’ I dunno what else to say about that one. It were a bit of a late runner that one but it worked out.”
The track is the perfect distillation of what makes Alex Turner such a powerful writer and the band such a force to be reckoned with. The ability to move between the seemingly simple and the subtlety complex has always been the band’s biggest weapon.