Within the first two seconds of Arctic Monkeys debut album, a thundering blitzkrieg of drums explodes. It instantly set them apart from other indie bands before you even got into the brilliance of Alex Turner’s songwriting because it was clear they also had great musicianship in their ranks. Thereafter, Matt Helders, the agile beast behind the kit, has drawn plaudits from Iggy Pop and Dave Grohl to P. Diddy and Josh Homme.
However, in the subsequent years, he has become notable for a fluid style that has proved he is not only proficient in every drumming department but also exhibited the key skill that the song itself dictates the beat and not the other way around. He is a sticksmith who is more than happy to play both a gentle background rhythm section role as well as a forceful driving forefront.
This changeable style is symptomatic of a band that does much the same. Throughout music history, all the best acts have been artistically evolving beasts and Arctic Monkeys are one of many who live by the David Bowie mantra of: “Never play to the gallery. Always remember that the reason you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt that if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society.”
Nowhere was this muse-following style more apparent than when the band wandered off to the desert and recorded Humbug with the desert rock progenitor himself, Josh Homme. Their hair got longer, and the songs followed suit. No longer dripping in the hue of Sheffield nights, the tracks were a darker affair scurried away from the fluorescence of vibrant adolescence.
Amid that album was one track that always seemed for my money to be destined for use in Breaking Bad, but it sadly never made it: ‘Dance Little Liar’. Speaking with Mike Dolbear, Helders describe the swampy anthem as his favourite recorded piece of music that he has been part of.
As it happens, the song was the driving force behind the whole Humbug phase, one which proved vital for the longevity and creative fruition of the band as they broke free from the shackles of hype. As Alex Turner recalled in an interview with Uncut: “We’d met [Homme] a couple of times and played a show together [in Houston in October 2007] and wondered then if he’d be up for producing us. We sort of forgot about it, but when we had about six songs together, Laurence [Bell] from our label said, ‘Would you still be interested in doing something with Josh?’ We sent him the demos and as soon as he heard the first bit of the tune ‘Dance Little Liar’ he said, ‘You’ve got to come to the desert.'”
They absconded away to the dust bowl of the Joshua Tree and ‘Dance Little Liar’ did indeed go on to become a glistening climax amid the crooked cacophony of the masterful record. As Turner later added regarding the duelling guitars: “He was really encouraging in every department but one thing that’s really apparent is the guitars. Both him and (engineer) Alain Johannes are terrific guitarists. We’ve always been reluctant to approach guitar solos for longer than a few seconds, but they gave us the confidence to rip it up.”
With Helders slowly building a gathering storm of drums in the background, the song is a rousing declaration of everything the band is about. With a forthcoming album proving imminent, we eagerly await the direction that their muses will bolt towards next. Wherever it’s wondered it promises to be interesting new territory.