Arctic Monkeys, Humbug

arcticm_phixrIt is hard to believe that it has been only three years since the Arctic Monkeys burst onto the rock scene with its fantastic debut, the Mercury Prize-winning Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. That recording will be forever loved because of its standout singles such as “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” and “When The Sun Goes Down.”

Still, the charm of this British band has really revolved around two things–frontman Alex Turner’s brilliant lyric writing and the rest of the band’s youthful but evolving musical skills. This became even more evident on the Monkeys’ second cd Favorite Worst Nightmare which expanded on Whatever’s charms with more depth.

The only knock against that sophomore release tended to be that it was rushed (released only one year after the debut) which left it less engaging. Even the Arctic Monkeys themselves probably would agree with that criticism a bit since the quartet ended up taking a little break and delved into various side projects.

Now, however, Turner and his mates–guitarist Jamie Cook, bassist Nick O’Malley, and drummer Matt Helders–are back and back with a creative vengeance. Their new release, Humbug, came out in late August and it shows the Arctic Monkeys are one of the most interesting and adventurous bands out today.

Humbug is a big departure for the band because it is darker, louder, and more ambitious that anything the group did before. Turner’s lyrics have even changed a bit as they are, for the most part, less direct and more obtuse.

As for the band’s sound on Humbug, there are still bits and pieces of the Arctic Monkeys’ signature sound from those first two records but most of the ten songs here feature shivering guitar riffs and thick basslines that sometimes sound spooky and spacy like on the tracks “Fire and the Thud” and “Dance Little Liar.”

Some of the credit for this new intriguing direction should be given to the Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme who produced the majority of Humbug. He wisely stays in the background though and lets the British quartet develop its elaborate sound. Two of the best examples of this are the rocking “Potion Approaching” and the punkish “Pretty Visitors.” Both songs showcase the bands now impressive musical skills, in particular Helders’ drumming.

Homme also lets the Arctic Monkeys showcase its more hook-filled side with Humbug’s first single, “Crying Lightning.” O’Malley’s chunky bassline is prominent throughout the track and it perfectly complements Turner’s deep croon. The song also features one of Turner’s finest lines–“With folded arms you occupied the bench like toothache, stood and puffed your chest out like you’d never lost a war.”

Interestingly, however, the best song on the cd, the eerie ballad “Cornerstone,” is not produced by Homme. Instead, it is one of three produced by James Ford who sat at the controls of the Monkeys’ second release. The song is Turner at his most adult as he sounds like Morrissey as he sings about a lost love with smart lyrics such as “She was nothing but a vision trick under the warning light/She was close, close enough to be your ghost.”

Despite all of Humbug’s highs however, this record might not win the British band many new fans–particularly in today’s fickle musical landscape. In fact, it might even frustrate some of the group’s fans as there are few viable singles here and a few tracks such as “My Propeller” aren’t as strong as the others. Nevertheless, Humbug is one of those rare recordings that gets better after multiple listenings and it proves the Arctic Monkeys are an intelligent band that should not be ignored.

Review By: Todd Sikorski

[Rating: 4/5]

Listen to “Cornerstone”

[audio: Monkeys_07_Cornerstone.mp3]

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