Monday, October 24, 2022

Arctic Monkeys speed towards a new sound on ‘The Car’, to spectacular effect

Arctic Monkeys, the band that defined late 2000s indie rock, have never been afraid to try new things. The transatlantic success of their 2013 album ‘AM’ inspired not a follow-up in the same ultra-suave, drums-heavy style but ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ (2017), a collection of jazz club-esque lounge music that caught even diehard fans by surprise. 

‘Tranquility Base’ was also a thematic departure, with Alex Turner’s signature ornate lyricism applied to a lunar hotel rather than the rowdy club dancefloors and jukebox catchiness of the band’s earlier work. 

Part of the appeal of a new Arctic Monkeys album lies in its frontman’s shapeshifting public persona. On ‘AM’, Turner moved from upstart Sheffield teen to leather-jacketed and gel-slicked smooth talker. On ‘Tranquility Base’, he became the disillusioned lounge singer, spinning existentialist yarns about loves and decades past. 

On ‘The Car’, though, he is perhaps more himself than anything else. The band’s new album is confidently experimentative, with parts of an older sound–think more ‘Humbug’ than ‘AM’–seeping into the production. The dark and synth-heavy track ‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’ wryly acknowledges this trend of bucked expectations: “Guess I’m talking to you now / Puncturing your bubble of relatability / With your horrible new sound”.

‘The Car’ is also an excellent showcase for Turner’s matured vocals. He’s lost the boyish edge of earlier albums, but it’s traded for a silky croon that often reaches into falsetto, twisting with ease around each emphatic syllable. It’s at its best on the mesmerising strings-led track ‘Body Paint’, which builds itself around the central admission, “if you’re thinking of me, I’m probably thinking of you”.

If ‘Tranquility Base’ put other members of the band on the backburner in favour of Turner’s creative meanderings, ‘The Car’ offers a return to well-rounded form. Drummer Matt Helders and guitarist Jamie Cook have ample chance to shine, especially on the groovy, riff-filled ‘Hello You’ and the Bowie-influenced ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’

It's an album that’s also positively cinematic at times, with the sprawling orchestra on ‘Big Ideas’ and the beautiful swelling strings on the album closer, ‘Perfect Sense’. And that’s to say nothing of ‘Mr Schwartz’s slinking boss nova charm and the meditative lilt of the title track. 

Turner’s writing is stellar, balanced as ever on a razor blade between obscurity and profundity–think, “Didn’t recognise you through the smoke / Pyjama pants and a Subbuteo cloak”. The seamless movement from a ‘your mum’ joke to such heart-aching conjured images as “So, if you wanna walk me to the car / You ought to know I’ll have a heavy heart” speak of a songwriter in a league of his own.

Speaking to NME, Turner reflected on the band’s longevity: “I don’t really think that much within the band has changed a great deal; we might know a few more tricks, but we’re still rolling on that very same instinct.” It is that communal instinct, shared by four teenagers from Sheffield twenty years ago, that is the Arctic Monkeys. It hasn’t steered them wrong yet.

‘The Car’ is an impressive, masterfully created, and rich soundscape. Arctic Monkeys are firmly catering to their creative instincts rather than to expectations and, because of it, they’ve never sounded better.



Eleanor Burleigh


Image: ‘The Car’ Official Album Cover

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