Review: Arctic Monkeys – ‘Suck It and See’

ArcticMonkeysSuckItAndSee600Gb200411As the Arctic Monkeys approach the tenth anniversary of their formation, it seems they have not abandoned an ethos which was spelled out very clearly in the infancy of their career.

“Don’t care if its marketing suicide, We won’t crack or compromise, Your do-rights or in-divides will never unhinge us,” sang Alex Turner, then a spotty teenager with a mop-top hairdo, on ‘Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?’, the title track on an EP of the same name.

With every new album they have played a different card and continued to move forward in a new direction, keeping that creative spark alive. Unlike many of the bands that emerged during what some referred to as a Britpop renaissance in the mid noughties, the Arctic Monkeys remain one of the few groups to stand the test of time and swerve the dreaded second album syndrome.

In 2006 the band released their debut record, ‘Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not‘, and soon followed it up with the EP ‘Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?‘. It’s only been five years, yet in the rapidly changing nature of the music industry it could be a lifetime ago. MySpace was the new kid on the block and considered the best thing since sliced bread. Now it’s the victim of a fast evolving, technology advancing world where the likes of Facebook and Spotify are considered as far superior social networking accessories in the promotion of music today.

The sudden appearance of their fourth album, ‘Suck It and See‘, officially streamed on the internet, is another example of the new approaches to marketing that bands embrace in the modern age. It is not uncommon to wake up in the morning and find yourself choking on your breakfast at the shock of finding out that one of your favourite bands has released a new song online for free without any warning at all. ‘Brick By Brick‘ became the first taste of ‘Suck It and See’ and was released in this manner. It hinted at a return to a sound that was more upbeat than the moody, heavier tones of ‘Humbug‘. Does the rest of the album follow suit? Well, yes and no.

From the outset of the new record they are clearly intent on doing things differently. Every Arctic Monkeys album to date has opened with a sense of urgency and high energy. The first record had ‘The View From The Afternoon‘, ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare‘ began with the rush of ‘Brianstorm‘ and ‘Humbug’ opened with ‘My Propeller‘. ‘Suck It and See’ greets you with a far less intense welcome. ‘She’s Thunderstorms‘ sweeps along like it was written by The Dears and is a surprisingly soft and mature beginning to the record. It again represents a non conforming attitude towards their music, serving up what you may have least expected.

Black Treacle‘ is more in tune with the heavier direction that the band has favoured in recent years. It is by no means a stand out track and is oddly placed in the tracklisting, yet it does well to exercise Turner’s vocal talent; a croon which has strengthened leaps and bounds with each album. ‘Brick By Brick’ sounds like it could easily fit on ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’; it’s frantically fun and recaptures the energy from that second album; the musical equivalent of a riot in a monkey’s cage.

Every Arctic Monkeys album has its anthemic festival pleaser and it is ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala‘ which has been touted as filling that vacancy on ‘Suck It and See’. The bad news is that it doesn’t quite match the mainstream appeal of ‘Mardy Bum‘ or ‘Fluorescent Adolescent‘ but the good news is that along with ‘Reckless Serenade‘ it is the most accessible song on the album and the closest thing to a ‘hit’ – whatever one of those is these days. Does anyone still buy singles? Judging by the charts at the moment it would appear not.

Everyone will have their favourite but this one will probably be the track that will have radio DJ’s salivating. It’s driven by a delicious bass line and is a glossy, melodic triumph. It is this song which marks the beginning of a surge in quality that flows throughout the middle of the album and is followed by ‘Don’t Sit Down Cause I Moved Your Chair‘ and the unpredictable, raucous ‘Library Pictures‘. ‘Don’t Sit Down…’ is the album’s nod toward Josh Homme, the Queens Of The Stone Age frontman who produced their last album and also provides backing vocals on ‘All My Own Stunts‘. His influence on the band can be heard on ‘Humbug’ and continues to pay dividends on ‘Suck It and See’.

‘Don’t Sit Down…’ is preceded by teasing string plucking which then explode with heavy crunching guitars, driven by a menacing, sexy riff. Lyrically, there’s less of the social observation and more of that razor sharp wit. ‘Running with scissors through a chip pan fire fight’ and ‘Going into business with a grizzly bear’ all feature on this insight into Turner’s bizarrely intriguing imagination. It sounds like the culmination of a song they’ve tried to write for years but never quite got there, until now, of course. It is the album’s flagship tune, encompassing everything that represents their new direction in the shape of a devastatingly good tune.

If the first half of the album was a largely upbeat affair, then the second half adopts a rather downbeat approach – something they happen to be very good at. Who remembers ‘Despair In The Departure Lounge?‘. It proved that there was much more to this band than ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor‘, which demonstrated an ability to turn their hand to different styles which they continue to do so today. ‘Reckless Serenade’ is stripped down and brings it back to basics; a grown up’s lullaby if you will, and a track whereby the bass is at the forefront, proving to be paramount in the success of this album. “I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what it is I need, called up to listen to the voice of reason and got the answering machine,” croons Turner on this track that is sure to be a live favourite.

Continuing in this sombre manner is ‘Love Is a Laserquest‘, the epitome of melancholy and not too dissimilar to ‘Humbug’s ‘Cornerstone‘. The album’s title track is less the rousing joy of ‘A Certain Romance‘ but more an understated climax to the album which is probably the best example of the newly found maturity that is propping up in Turner’s songwriting.

‘Suck It and See’ really could have done with another tune in the vein of ‘Brick By Brick’ to give it a bit of a kick up the arse towards the end as it does suffer slightly from the drop in pace. ‘That’s Where Your Wrong‘ is a solid effort but feels slightly laboured after the previous two songs.

They have hung onto the heavy, gloomier sounds of ‘Humbug’ and incorporated it with the urgency and energy of their earlier material, which makes for a healthy mix and shows off the ongoing development in Turner’s songwriting craft. Whilst ‘Suck It and See’ fails in producing a commercial hit, it succeeds in consistency and innovation. It has a bit of everything from the Arctic Monkeys back catalogue, as well as some new ideas which keep it fresh and yet again offer something new. The bass emerges as the key instrument in the shaping of this album with some memorable bass lines that carry a lot of the songs.

It certainly is not the sort of record you would have expected them to make in 2006 after the indie disco soundtrack of ‘Whatever People Say I am…’, which they seem to want to distance themselves from without leaving it behind completely. Alex is not a kid anymore and isn’t writing about the same things he once did that drew comparisons with the likes of Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker.

‘Suck It and See’ is a celebration of everything they’ve achieved to date as well as a glimpse of what they could still become. Suck it and see for yourself.

(Matt Humphrey)

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  1. Monkeys 8 June, 2011
  2. Machiventa 20 August, 2011

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