Thursday, 3 October 2013

''AM'' Arctic Monkeys - A Review

It's long been said that the second time around is the hardest for an artist, or in fact anyone in an artistic or sporting field, to recreate something that captured the attention of an audience so vividly in the first place- you can count the number of film sequels that outdo their original on your fingers, 'second season syndrome' is a regular cause of disappointment for fans in the Premier League of many clubs, while the term 'sophomore slump' is thrown around the music world more than is ever necessary for countless acts that have arrived on the scene with a bang.

I'm not sure if I agree with the last one for several reasons- take a quick look at the biggest names and debut albums in rock since the turn of the millenium and you'll find The Strokes (Is This It?), Bloc Party (Silent Alarm) and Interpol (Turn On The Bright Lights) pretty high on any given list. Was it the case that these three aforementioned acts suffered a severe downfall on their second outings? Not whatsoever, with Room On Fire, A Weekend In The City and Antics proving that each could follow through on their outstanding earlier works.

The problem though, was following that. While you certainly aren't going to find the likes of these names in a ''Where Are They Now?'' article, the fact is that the work they're producing today is of sub standard quality to 5 or 10 years ago, and that right there is the damning evidence to suggest that the real factor that seperates a great band and a great album can be summarized in all of one word; consistency.In any case, the Arctic Monkeys arrived with an explosion in 2006 with one of the finest albums of the past decade, but in truth they've been rebelling against it, and the Oasis/Blur/Stone Roses successor image that came with it ever since.

AM is the Monkey's fifth effort and comes off the back of two albums that divided critics and polarized fans, namely Humbug (2009) and Suck It And See (2011) for their slower, classic rock inspired stoner rock approach and ditching of the British teen lad image that was prevalent before. It's a very interesting title, one that might be deemed lay by some, but as I've always seen it, there are only two reasons for a band to self title an album post debut- either they've churned out an indifferent, meaningless effort lacking in ideas and imagination and can't be bothered to name it anything else (see Interpol's latest for further details), or they've created a work of art that they feel defines them better than ever before. Fortunately for us, AM most definitely falls into the latter category, combining the styles and sounds of the Arctics previous four albums and some more in a wonderful pay off for fans of both early and later work.

Things kick off with two tracks the audience should be familiar with already due to the festival circuit, namely the slow burning hip-hop beats of ''Do I Wanna Know?'' and the Queens Of The Stone Age inspired ''R U Mine?'', acting as a one two punch introduction to the album that segues into a trio of  fusion rock style bangers as the band mix old styles and new to great effect, particularly on ''Arabella''. The mid section of the album is telling- the ironically titled ''No. 1 Party Anthem'' swoons it's way around the listeners ears in a sumptous blend of ''Only Ones Who Know'' and ''Cornerstone'', while ''Mad Sounds'' continues the smothering romantic theme that dominates the album. From here there are slight hitches as ''Snap Out Of It'' and ''Fireside'' (while enjoyable) hint at a High Flying Birds type influence that Turner is better than, but as we approach the close, ''Knee Socks'' makes for another highlight.

The best is undoubtedly saved for last however as Alex Turner delivers one of the finest, most affecting pieces of songwriting of his 27 year existence with ''I Wanna Be Yours''. Actingas an out and out song of love and devotion to an anonymous subject, the song represents a total emalgamation of AM and the band in general, taking the mundanity of daily life in Britain and transforming it into something more extraordinary and beauftiful: ''I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, breathing in your dust/ I wanna be your Ford Cortina, I will never rust''. It's a fittingly wonderful closer to the band's best work since Favourite Worst Nightmare 6 years ago.

Ultimately, AM captures the Arctic Monkeys in a moment of totality and completeness; content with image and sound after yearws spent searching, AM is a stellar work of music that can be built on, and cruicially, feels like it surely will. Perhaps the best thing you could say about this record is that it makes me think Arctic Monkeys will improve from here, and considering their previous catalogue, that's quite a statement to make, and a truly exciting prospect.

When asked about the title pre-release, Alex Turner replied with a knowing smile, claiming he'd ripped it from the Velvet Underground's 1985 complilation VU: ''Did we cop out? Yeah, but something about it feels like this record is exactly where we should be right now. So it felt right just to initial it.''  It's an insightful comment, and while he might be laughing at the complacency of those initials himself, in reality, it couldn't have been named anything else.

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