This is a shame. Honestly it is… a real damn shame.
Ok… I don’t think we need any lengthy introductions here do we? We all know who Arctic Monkeys are I’m sure. However, the question I’m now asking myself, after traipsing laboriously through to the end of their 4th album, is do the band themselves still know who they are? Because on this highly derivative, personality-devoid evidence I’m not so sure they do.
It’s ironic actually. Back in ’06, when the world was still reeling from the storming success of their debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, they shot out a quick-fire EP entitled ‘Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?’ Lyrics from the self-referential title track have now proved to be uncannily prophetic: “In 5 years time, will it be ‘who the fuck’s Arctic Monkeys’?” Alex Turner quipped sarcastically in the chorus, in reaction to the monsoon of hype that was gushing all over them back then; hype, incidentally, that I was more than happy to be swept up in. How disappointing for this particular reviewer then, that today the song’s contemplations smack as glaringly, horribly accurate.
But not everyone thinks so. NME, for instance, have deemed Suck It And See a 9/10 effort. Please excuse my stating the obvious, but that makes it one off perfect… one off the perfect rating they awarded their debut as a matter of fact. I find this laughable and will give my reasons.
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was a special record for me. With that album the Monkeys summed up the shit that went on in my youth better than any other band to date. The chavvyness, the ignorant bouncers, the Tropical Reefs, the lot. And it came out at a time when my teenage years were still fresh in the memory, and was able to enjoy looking back on them with a nostalgic grin of delight.
I know lots of bands have covered this topic. Modern acts like The Enemy, Hard-Fi, The Rakes; they’ve all had decent cracks at ranting about drunken disaffected youth, as indeed have countless bands further back through history like The Jam or The Clash. But the Arctic Monkeys’ energetic post-punk / indie rock hybrid absolutely nailed it for me. It was my teens in one sharp, scintillating, tightly-packed nutshell… minus the bit about picking up prostitutes in Sheffield of course. I can’t claim to identify with that one.
Then the second album came out and I felt a surge of relief because, on Favourite Worst Nightmare, Turner demonstrated that his knack for penning an incisive lyric could carry Arctic Monkeys beyond their comfort zones of grotty nightclubs and inner-city alleyways. Backed by some chunky, rubbery basslines and Matt Helder’s ferocious drumming, their sophomore offering succeeded where the likes of The Enemy, Hard-Fi and The Rakes regrettably fell short.
All of which makes Arctic Monkeys’ last two albums even more mystifying. I’m all for changes of direction when a band is looking to progress and evolve their sound. It’s the only way. And I bet it’s one hell of a challenge. But I’d have a lot more confidence in the direction Arctic Monkeys are taking if I sensed that they themselves had some confidence in it too. And I just don’t sense that. In the process of changing direction they’ve drained themselves of every thrilling ingredient that made them stand out in the first place. Gone is the arrogant swagger, the cutting edge lyricism, the imaginative song construction, and with all that has gone every element of individuality they ever had.
On Suck It And See, seemingly unsure of their way, they have plumped for a safe rehashing of 80s garage rock, inter-spliced with some very Queens Of The Stone Age style solos and woozy balladry. To be ruthlessly blunt, they just come across tired; hopelessly devoid of ideas and too lazy to bother thinking any up. If a new indie band arrived on the scene, armed with this as their debut LP, the lack of originality would be a noose around their neck.
And I don’t have a problem with musicians drawing on the past for inspiration. Many bands have had huge success reviving bygone eras and genres. But Arctic Monkeys are reviving nothing here. In fact, this stale attempt at rock n roll reminds you how much better bands like Queens Of The Stone Age are at this sort of stuff.
I mean come on, seriously. Brick By Brick? Garage rock without a trace of attitude, that ends up desperately repeating the line ‘I wanna rock and roll, brick by brick’. How about Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair? This might be the most annoying song – and song title – I’ve heard all year. For about 20 seconds I was almost won over by the riffs, but the wearying recitation of clichés about living dangerously (“Break a mirror, roll the dice, run with scissors”) has the power to induce cringes from 100 yards. Unfortunately, it’s not the only song on here that harbours this unwelcome effect.
Of course, lyrics aren’t everything. Foals are testament to that. But Alex Turner places so much of his music’s emphasis on them that you can’t simply brush them aside and focus on something else. “If you’re gonna try to walk on water, make sure you wear your comfortable shoes”. They’re too damn corny to escape from.
Normally I would be pretty neutral on an album like this. If some other generic indie band, like say the Pigeon Detectives or The Courteeners, had released it I would merely have shrugged my shoulders and been on my way. But seeing as I’ve invested so much time and passion into enjoying Arctic Monkeys, it feels like a real let down to think of them settling for this. I’m not joking, it seriously irritates me. I’m so irritated, in fact, that I’m gonna change that 3/10 up there into a 2. See how they like that…………
……..whoa whoa whoa. Actually, no. Make that a 3 again. I just remembered that I gave that Beady Eye album a 2/10 a while back and, all joking aside, it is at least better than that.
Ch-Check It Out If You’re Partial To – Garage rock; QOTSA guitar solos; patient balladry; really awful song titles; corny lyrics and lots of cliches; listening to a good band who have lost their way
Fantastic Track – There aren’t really any, I’m sorry to say… my favourite is She’s Thunderstorms