Long gone are the ragged and edgy sounds and feelings that came out of Sheffield, England, which were full of aggressive, unpolished riffs and killer lyrics. Now, with the kings of “indie rock” releasing a fifth album titled a.m., we see a more polished gem from the rough, full of sophisticated and catchy tunes that still contain the feel of albums of old, but now contain lyrics and rhythms that keep you wanting to listen to them more and more as time goes on. Like an onion, we’re still peeling the layers of the musical talents of the Arctic Monkeys. They are not a rock band, nor can you slap the indie label on them – they are artists. Think of the likes of Bowie, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan, all of whom have become masters of their craft. Those are the artists that best represent the sheer variety and talent of the Arctic Monkeys. For now, let’s celebrate this record for what it is – 41 minutes and 57 seconds of near perfection.
The Arctic Monkeys are an English indie rock band formed in 2002 in High Green, a suburb of Sheffield. The band consists of Alex Turner (lead vocals, lead/rhythm guitar), Jamie Cook (rhythm/lead guitar), Nick O’Malley (bass guitar, backing vocals), and Matt Helders (drums, backing vocals).”
1. “Do I Wanna Know?” –
2. “R U Mine?” – 3:20
3. “One for the Road” – 3:26
4. “Arabella” – 3:27
5. “I Want It All” – 3:04
6. “No. 1 Party Anthem” –
7. “Mad Sounds” Turner,
Alan Smyth – 3:35
8. “Fireside” – 3:01
9. “Why’d You Only Call
Me When You’re High?” –
10. “Snap Out of It” – 3:12
11. “Knee Socks” – 4:17
12. “I Wanna Be Yours”
Turner, John Cooper Clarke
Right off the bat, there is a more mature, dark tone to this album with “Do I Wanna Know?” The lyrical prowess of Alex Turner is evident right from the outset. The entirety of “Do I Wanna Know?” scintillates, acting as a stringent metaphor to the inception of foreplay in a dimly lit boudoir. Consequently, it’s a curtain raiser that outwardly states that Turner is in possession of a libidinous mindset, and the result is an exquisite weaving of words, with none wasted, around a slow-burning fuse that only requires an undeviating foot stomp and a severely hypnotic, circular riff.
The crux of this record is neatly summed up by the hook to the blistering “R U Mine?”: “Are you mine tomorrow/or just mine tonight?” It sums up an entire world of sex, love and desire with lyrics such as “And satisfaction feels like a distant memory/and I can’t help myself, All I wanna hear her say is/Are you mine?” Turner asserts romantic living in the likes of an unromantic world, grasping for the meaning in a city-to-city, road-dog lifestyle, hell-bent on repelling it. In many ways, Turner’s struggle and his band’s gleaming transformation into the likes of rock gods gives a sense of nostalgia. It’s oddly familiar to U2’s turnaround album Achtung Baby, on which the quartet treaded in deep virtuousness the likes of sin, rhythm and leather jackets.
“One For the Road” is a great track on its own. Continuing on the theme of a darker story and the deeds that happen, the track shows some of Turner’s ability on rhythm guitar, as we have a deep roll for guitar setting the mood.
“Arabella” reminds me of the psychedelic songs of the Beatles. Throw in some rifts that sound like they are from early Sabbath, and you have a nice homage to the late ‘60s through mid ‘70s. The lyrics in this song portray a lovely lady, and use exotic imagery throughout the song to paint Arabella as an eccentric space-age lover. “The horizon tries but it’s not just as kind on the eyes” is an example of one lyric line, in which Turner says that his lover is more pleasing on the eyes than a setting sun on the horizon.
Next on tap is “I Want It All.” “I Want It All” is about the little things that make up a relationship, or even a fling, and Turner is down with all of them. “Blind faith, Heartache/mind games, mistake/my sweet fireball, my sweet Rigmarole” is a lyric that depicts the fact rather clearly. “I Want It All” shows a hint of glam rock with a drier, grittier guitar scrawl that goes full circle in a meticulous advance.
“No. 1 Party Album” tells of a dude (presumably himself) emulating a bad boy image, walking through the nightclub on the hunt for a certain girl. The imagery of popped antennae so we can visualize how straight up the collar of his leather jacket is…well, think James Dean. If you don’t know who this is, Google him and go watch “Rebel Without a Cause.” The song progresses as this dude and a girl have made eye contact and look like they might talk, ”As all the signals are sent/her Eyes invite you to approach/and it seems as though those lumps in your throat/that you just swallowed have got you going.” One thing I love about this album is that when you begin to think about the lyrics in these songs, they present a story in each of them, and it’s up to us to decipher each of them.
“Mad Sounds” is an interesting song. I’ve seen this song interpreted in many different ways. One of the interpretations is that these “mad sounds” are the unintended benefit of music. It helps make you forget about your issues and pains. Instead of stressing out over the situation at hand, good or bad, you just get lost in the beats, letting them take you over. The more you travel, the further from reality you get, eventually losing touch. Another interpretation is the aftermath of perfect intercourse, where you tenderly tell your lover how much you love them before preparing yourself to do it all over again.
“Fireside” is a more mellow song, describing how we feel after a break-up. The memories and images of old we have of those we loved tend to haunt our dreams as they dance around our minds like moonlight. “I can’t explain but I wanna try/there’s this image of you and I/and it goes dancing by in the morning and the night time” perfectly encapsulates the song’s meaning. Sometimes, it’s the physical landscape of the memories that remain intact, and as we see these places and things, we can’t help but remember memories of old, whether good or bad.
One of my favorite songs on this album, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” describes a moment we’ve probably had, and probably felt ashamed about it after. I’m talking about both sides, because nothing good happens after 3 a.m. “Somewhere darker/Talking the same s—/ I need a partner/ Well are you out tonight/ It’s harder and harder to get you to listen through the gears/ Incapable of making alright decisions/ And having bad ideas.” Both a physical description of changing to a darker, dingier venue as the night continues, and a description of the narrator’s state of mind as our narrator becomes more intoxicated. As he does become more inebriated, it’s harder to say anything to the girl that sounds genuine. She’s basically “snuffin” out the fact that he’s intoxicated when he’s calling her.
Next up is “Snap Out of It.” “What’s been happening in your world? /What have you been up to/ I heard that you fell in love, or near enough/ I gotta tell you the truth.” Ever ran into an ex- you still had feelings for, or maybe it’s the girl you never could build up the courage to ask out?
We’ve all been there, and we’ve all had that feeling of dread as we hear her tell us how she’s doing with another man (or woman if you want to reverse roles here). “I wanna grab both your shoulders and shake baby/ Snap out of it (snap out of it).” What’s a better way to get someone to “snap out of it” then shake them silly by their shoulders? Want an example? Watch Airplane, case and point.
Another personal favorite is “Knee Socks,” which tells of a wintertime tryst that climaxes. The song talks about the type of girl who stays out all night and lounges at home all day. The type of girl who’s a vixen at the club and his dose of comfort when they come home….that makes him want to stay in bed all day. This girl in the song uses sex and romance to get past what could be depression, or the tedium of life. She could be a sex addict, and the late nights described are what she lives for.
The last track on this album is “I wanna be yours.” “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner/ Breathing in your dust.”
Quoting John Cooper Clarke’s 1982 poem of the same name, our narrator wants to be as close to her as possible. “I wanna be your Ford Cortina/ I will never rust.” Our narrator will stick by this girl, as he “will never rust,” he will never lose the love and affection he shows her. Back in the ‘70s, the Ford Cortina was one of the best-selling cars in Britain, manufactured all the way up to 1982. The Cortinas around today are extremely prone to rust, making this line a healthy dose of sarcasm.
One of my favorite albums to review so far, I give a.m. a 4.5 out of 5. Stay tuned for my next review.