I finally got around to listening to the new Arctic Monkeys album this week. When asking what it was like, I had been answered 9 times out of 10 with one simple word- “Dark”. But what did that mean? How can music be unequivocally described as dark, especially when done by those peppy Scouse lads? Where did my pants go? (Oops, wrong blog.) To answer this question, I went where only several million men have gone before, and gave “Humbug” a listen.
ONE HOUR LATER…
Alright, I’ve just finished the album, and I have one thing to say: dark is the wrong choice of word- its gothic. It’s unlike anything Alex Turner and co. have written before, but then again it’s exactly what you’d expect, if that makes any sense. See, their debut LP was full of outstandingly simple guitar riffs, satirical references to pop culture, and whiny Poms. Their follow-up was equally great on the riff front, just as clever with the lyrics, but seemed not as light and indie as the previous one had been. So it stands to reason that their new album would be riff-tastic, bitingly clever and full of stuff Edgar Allen Poe might have written. Which it is, but also is not. (Now that definitely doesn’t make any sense.)
The opener, My Propeller, is honestly scary. Alex Turner’s unmistakeable accent is replaced by an uncharacteristically deep and haunting voice; I’d compare it to another singer’s if I weren’t such a bad writer. It strives to set a mood, as any good opener should do, and would succeed if not for one small lapse. Halfway through, Turner decides he’s had enough of being spooky, and randomly bursts out an elongated moan of “Momentary synergy”. Now that’s just silly; it makes the song seem fit for a business conference, but not one of Britain’s best talents.
The next song, Crying Lightning, is probably the standout track, and was deservedly released as a single. Random fact: the film clip was directed by Richard Ayoade, known primarily as Moss from The IT Crowd. Starring in one of the best sitcoms this decade, and then directing the Arctic Monkeys? I am officially green with envy.
This is then followed up with Dangerous Animals, which brought on a bout of déjà vu for me. Why? Because the third track on Favourite Worst Nightmare is titled “D is for Dangerous”, and this current one simply spells out “D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S” in its chorus. A terrible song, redeemed only slightly by its riff, it got me worried that Turner’s lyrics had lost their mojo; wasn’t spelling out the title something that idiots like Fergie did?
This concern abated slightly in the next song as he spoke of “night time phantasms”, which I’d like to believe is something Fergie would never have heard of, let alone use in a song. It also got me thinking of the other day’s Entertainment Tonight. Usually a truly awful show (they’re still going on about Michael Jackson!), it brought a small piece of heaven to my life the other day when Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz were interviewed. As Cruise moved a light out of Diaz’ way, she gushed about his gentlemanly attitude, describing him as “chivalrous”. Or, at least she tried to do this; being a Hollywood airhead, she couldn’t really pronounce it, and so it came out as “ch-chival…chivaly….shimmy”, until the interviewer graciously rescued her. World-class comedy.
The rest of the album is a slight blur thanks to my lack of retention, though I did manage to detect a bit of an influence from Rush, which was weird. The guitars kept on riffing, but the lyrics failed to deliver; Turner seemed more abstract in his thoughts, and not really interested in taking his usual Bob Dylan, tell-us-a-story route. There were, of course, still glimpses of his wonderful wit, culminating in the hilariously subversive “What came first? The chicken or the dickhead?” If I were to guess, I’d say the chicken.
The rest of the band performs admirably (I guess). The guitarist is always improving, and seems to be turning into a new-age Tom Morello (or at the very least, a poor man’s Matt Bellamy. Or in the worst possible scenario, The Edge.) The bassist….what can you say about him? He sure knows how to use those fingers? Nah, that sounds like I had a sexual encounter with him, something I categorically deny right here and now.
The drummer (Matt Helders) has evolved, transforming the frenetic hi-hatting of his youth into a more diverse sound (meaning he has finally added tom toms to his kit). But even he is susceptible to a wild turn on this album, as the final two or three tracks seem as though he is possessed by Lars Ulrich’s spirit, resulting in a military-like backbeat. To me, this is obviously a dastardly ploy courtesy of the United States Army- the pseudo-subliminal nature of the drumming patterns are an attempt to get America’s hip, indie youth to sign up with Uncle Sam. Then again, I have been accused of looking WAY too far into things.
So overall, it’s a quality album. It would probably be an accomplishment for any other band, it’s just that the Monkeys have set themselves such a high standard that anything remotely different is going to be received in a lukewarm manner by their fans (i.e. me). Of course, it probably still got rave reviews from the so-called music critics, but we all know that this is just a misguided attempt, on their half, to stay cool, fresh, and relevant- all things they never were in the first place.