AM – Arctic Monkeys Review

18 Sep

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Critically acclaimed debuts can often be a curse for a band. Plenty of bands have combusted under the pressure to repeat it – see the Stone Roses, the Klaxons, the Las and dozens others. However if there was ever a band that argued early success needn’t be a burden, it was the Arctic Monkeys, and AM is the conclusive proof.

As the title suggests, AM is stripped-down, back to basics, but the band have come so far in the last eight years it still sounds like nothing they’ve done before. It’s traditional rock but with a glossy veneer of hubris. Don’t mistake the anachronistic titles for dumbing down – this is just the band feeling comfortable in their own skin.

Gone is almost everything you might associate with their award-winning debut. The jangly indie guitar riffs have been replaced by muscular, R’n’B tinged tunes. The Sheffield quartets have truly embraced American sounds. This is mostly thanks to ‘R U Mine?’, a one-off song they released last year that the band liked so much they continued to mine the sonic space it had unearthed, and it now feels like an integral part of the album.

The social commentary that defined their first album has also mutated into richer lovelorn poetry. One of the highlights comes early in ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ as Alex wonders ‘if your heart’s still open and if so what time it shuts?’ It’s not tied to a specific place or time, but instead evokes many different shades of love, whether it’s drunk, desperate or just dumb.

In ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ Alex even adapts words from poet John Cooper Clarke. The fact they sound like his own shows off his strength not just as a lyricist but as a song writer.

There are almost too many highlights too mention. Album opener ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ sounds like ‘R U Mine’s’ evil twin, filled with alcohol-induced swagger, while ‘Why Do You Only Call Me When I’m High?’, is one of the funniest songs they’ve ever produced. ‘Number One Party Anthem’ is a huge misnomer; you could more imagine Alex crooning it in a smoky jazz bar. I’ve managed to get the end without mentioning the best song, ‘Abarbella’ with its flickering riffs and vivid desert poetry.

It’s impossible to retrap lightening in a bottle but Arctic Monkeys have managed to make something different and just as good. Purists who are still waiting for more stories about taxi ranks need not listen but everyone else is going to love AM. If Alex Turner has only recently grown into his role as a rockstar, this is the soundtrack to his new life.

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