Arctic Monkeys grow up and keep the funk on 'AM'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
There’s a groove on “Knee Socks,” the penultimate song on the fifth Arctic Monkeys album, AM, that’s vaguely reminiscent of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner." It burrows in the brain of whoever’s listening and it stays there until another, more powerful rhythm knocks it out.
It’s not an overt theft of the melody, of course, and that’s not the point. But the way that rhythm works, paired with a breakdown that would’ve sounded welcome on Thriller, is all indicative of a band who, while maintaining their own aesthetic, are not afraid to grow up and experiment. The ability to grow up without selling off essential parts of the soul is not one easily done in rock and roll lately, and that the Arctic Monkeys are successfully executing that essential step towards longevity is a testament to how strong AM is from front to back.
For more evidence, there’s also a weirdly mature aspect to “Do I Wanna Know?” that relays the growth of a band who’s older and better at their craft but haven’t abandoned their identity. It’s a killer song that roared out this summer ahead of the record, but it’s the little details that help push it to a realm beyond “catchy.” Take, for example, an incredible couplet on the top of the chorus that runs:
“Ever thought of calling when you’ve had a few?
‘Cause I always do”
Besides showing the growth that comes with knowing better than to drunk-dial someone you’re interested in (this comes with age, eventually), it’s the way the melody wraps around the words “calling when” before falling together with “when you’ve had a few” that sucks the listener in immediately. It works so well and it conveys the emotion of the moment and it just sounds so familiar and so different for a band that has never had an issue with sounding fun or infectious. They’re themselves, and they’re a little different now.
They’re all little moments that reflect a maturity and growth that has been building since they burst on this side of the ocean around 2006 or so. They’ve gone from telling the girl that she looks good on the dance floor to simply asking if she’s theirs. It’s a subtle shift, but it’s a significant one.
Through all this, they’re no less fun and rhythm-heavy than they’ve ever been. The biggest shift is simply that the beats and chords are a little more compact, a little craftier and just as effective. The slightly more pronounced production is balanced by the fact that the songs are good enough to withstand a heavier hand in the control room. The backing vocals and “woo woo”s on “One for the Road” floating over guest Josh Homme’s guitar are a tiny example of an element that might not have appeared on an Arctic Monkeys record five years ago. Or the softer turn on “No. 1 Party Anthem” and “Mad Sounds,” hinted at on Suck It and See, is allowed to fully breathe here.
The consistency comes from the songs themselves and the feel that Alex Turner and company instills in all of this. For all the growth and experimentation that might present itself on AM, what carried the band this far and what will keep them going is how well they do what they do. Every band worth anything has their own sound, and they’ve had that for some time. The trick is keeping it new, and there’s plenty of fresh air on AM to keep the Arctic Monkeys vital for some time.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org