Arctic Monkeys ‘Suck It and See’ – Review

16 Jun

Back in April I asked if anyone else thought that Arctic Monkeys were close to jumping the shark. This was after viewing the rather pompous video for the rather pompous song ‘Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’, both of which felt more like the products of ‘Be Here Now era Oasis than the usually understated Arctic Monkeys. Add to that the divisive album art and album title, and it wasn’t surprising that those kind of questions were starting to be asked. But after living with ‘Suck it and See’ for a week two things are now blindingly obvious; firstly that the music video, the single choices, the cover art and album title were nothing more than red herrings. And second, I should have had more faith In Arctic Monkeys, the best band of their generation.

We should have seen it coming – after all they are the kings of contrary. This is the band that refused to appear on top of the pops, the band that put out an e.p of new material weeks after releasing the fastest selling debut album of all time. The band that wouldn’t release Mardy Bum as a single and didn’t even put the most commercial sounding song recorded during the ‘Humbug’ sessions on the album, let alone release it as a single. Arctic Monkeys don’t care about expectations, industry norms or pre-conceptions; they do things entirely as they want to do them, and more often than not it’s at the expense of people who think they know what they should be doing.

Therefore, although ‘Suck It and See’ is bursting with summer pop CHOOONS, the album has been promoted as some kind of stoner rock revival record. There is nothing wrong with ‘Brick by Brick’ as an album track (in fact it’s delightful) but it’s as representative of the album as ‘Riot Van’ was of the debut – i.e not at all. ‘Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ was an even stranger choice of single; not only is it the worst song on the album, but it also has a pretty good case for being the worst song Arctic Monkeys have ever put on an LP. And yet you can sympathise with their reasons for releasing it; they did it because there is nothing else as hard hitting out there in 2011 (not on the charts at least). Everytime it comes on the radio it’s a breath of fresh air that blows the auto-tune pop and manufactured garbage out of the water. Even at their weakest Arctic Monkeys are still miles ahead of their popular contemporaries.

But lets put the red herrings behind us and get to the big question; how does ‘Suck it and See’ compare to their previous albums? The answer is simply that it may be their most rewarding record yet, and it’s certainly their most poppy and direct. Alex Turner has always been a bit of a crooner, even in the early days, and his most tender songs have been the highlights of past albums (who could forget ‘Mardy Bum’, ‘Flourescent Adolescent’, or ‘Cornerstone’). But whereas before these slower songs were in the minority to the heavier numbers, this time around they make up roughly 2/3rds of the album. Chiming guitars, thick basslines, major key melodies and lyrics about lust and love are the order of the day. Sonically and muiscally it falls somewhere between ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ and ‘Humbug’ – it’s not as straightforward as the former but nor is it as experimental as the latter.

‘Humbug’ was a greatly underrated album, but its charms admittedly took time to rub off (that was an album where you really had to suck and see). ‘Suck It and See’ on the other hand takes you by the scruff of the neck and each song announces its intentions straight the way. ‘Reckless Serenade opens with a Motown inspired bass line and a glorious lyric about topless models ‘doing semaphore’ who get ignored when the femme fatale walks by; It’s a mesmerizing introduction. ‘Reckless Serenade’ would have been a blinding first single, but then so would the Stone Roses-esque ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’, or the brilliantly titled ‘Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’. This record is brimming with glorious indie pop moments.

Turner’s lyrics, once as concrete as Fort Knox, are now totally abstract and rich in metaphor and ambiguities. He always sticks to a theme but he no longer crafts traceable stories, in fact songs can switch perspective or tense from one verse to another. When prodded Alex uncomfortably stated that weather and time were the two big themes of ‘Suck It and See’ and, as unattractive as those themes may sound, he isn’t wrong; luckily he is as wise, imaginative and funny as ever. ‘Love is a Laserquest’ finds him brooding over an ex, trying to forget her by pretending she was ‘just another lover’. Later in the song he imagines himself as an old man still stuck in the same situation. This is as poignant and restrained as anything the Monkeys have ever crafted and it’s a million miles from his early songs about chippies and hookers. On the closer ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ he tells a mysterious figure that ‘you’re not the only one time’s got it in for, that’s where you’re wrong’ – Arctic Monkeys are growing up and boy does Alex Turner know it.

Speaking of time, lets rewind a bit; ‘In Five years time will it be ‘who the fuck’s Arctic Monkeys?” This was the question Alex Turner posed, fittingly enough, five years ago on the title track to the appropriately titled ‘Who the Fuck are Arctic Monkeys’ ep. Whilst there was never any doubt that AM would be remembered in 2011, I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how essential they would still be. With the lack of any real young guitar force coming through the ranks, NME are repositioning the Monkeys as the saviours of rock five years after originally doing so. When ‘Suck It and See’ went to number one last week it was the first British guitar album to hit the top spot since Oasis’s greatest hits twelve months before hand. That says a lot. Many wondered if AM would implode with all the hype that surrounded their breakthrough, but they never did and they are now the most important band in Britain for the second time in half a decade. Jump the shark? Arctic Monkeys may just have made the best album of their short but fascinating career.

9/10

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