By Arctic Monkeys
I distinctly remember the initial thrill and feeling of complete and utter excitement when I first heard a clutch of demos by Arctic Monkeys all the way back in 2005. I was a young single student of 19, living in Hull with my parents. I was lost, with no sense of direction or purpose, and here was a band whose front man and lyricist spoke to me in a way no other music act had previously managed to. Alex Turner - himself at the time only 18 - got me. He understood me and my life, and the lives of my friends. He captured what it was like growing up as a late teen, living in the biggest fucking hole possible, but finding all the drama and excitement anyone could ever need in the short period of time between going out on the razz on a Saturday night and waking up hungover and penniless on a Sunday morning. Those were fun, exhilarating and insouciant times, sure, but nothing remains the same; moments of time don't last forever. To put it more succinctly: people grow up. I'm now 26, still living in Hull (hey, home is home), recently out of a long-term relationship, with a full-time job and numerous outgoings and responsibilities. I couldn't have kept going out every Saturday night, getting pissed up and trying it on with anything that moved just as much as Alex Turner couldn't have kept writing about it with every subsequent release.
If their debut record, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006), covered the themes mentioned above, then their speedy second release Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007) was a noticeable step up in terms of how tight and fluid the band sounded - Matt Helder's drumming in particular sounding astonishing - and Turner's growing maturity as a lyricist. By the time their Josh Homme produced third LP, Humbug (2009), had rolled around, the transformation from boys to men - for both myself and them - was complete. Also complete? The love/hate relationship the band had with those fans who loved 'Mardy Bum', but didn't appreciate the rest of the band's catalogue in quite the same way. Or the ones who considered Favourite Worst Nightmare to be a crushing disappointment because they were unable to relate to anything Turner was saying anymore. Either way, Humbug, came across as a reaction to all of that. In very much the same vein as MGMT's Congratulations, it seemed a conscious and strict 'casual fans need not apply' move. Results would suggest that it worked - the album divided fans and critics alike and it was their poorest seller to date. For what it's worth, I quite liked Humbug. When it got it right - see: 'Crying Lightning', 'Cornerstone' and 'Pretty Visitors' - it really got it right. But those moments were few and far between. The album lacked a certain charm that listeners had become accustom to with Arctic Monkeys' records and at times it was a bit of a slog.
So when initial noises surfaced regarding the new album, calling it a "return to form" and a more "upbeat and pop oriented affair", there was reason to be cautious yet optimistic. Cautious, because I've heard plenty of bands describe their new album as sounding like one thing, yet upon hearing it sounding anything but (here's looking at you, Radiohead's Hail To The Thief, and your 'sounding a bit like a cross between The Bends and OK Computer claims). But optimistic because here was a chance to hear the Monkeys returning to a sound that suited them, with older heads on their shoulders and a more confident and skilled approach to everything they did. Upon hearing the actual record it was to my delight to discover that Suck It And See does not disappoint, on any level.
A return to form? Sure, if you like. But it's so much more than that; it's Arctic Monkeys at the peak of their creative powers. Everyone is on form here: Matt Helders is still hitting his drums to within an inch of their life, whilst Jamie Cook and Nick O'Malley - so often overlooked - sound brilliant; the album contains some beautiful guitar moments and lovely melodies. The real star, however, is Turner. Vocally, he's never been better. His short, sharp bark of the band's early days has been developed and replaced with a beautiful Richard Hawley-esque croon.
Lyrically speaking, there's an abundance of zingers. See the opening couplet for album centrepiece 'Reckless Serenade': "Topless models doing semaphore/ Wave their flags as she walks by and get ignored." Or 'Suck It And See's' brilliant barb: "That's not a skirt girl, that's a sawn-off shotgun/ And I can only hope you've got it aimed at me." Suffice to say, Turner isn't signing about perma-tanned monsters or Smirnoff Ices anymore - but that's not to say he's lost any of his wit or keen eye for detail. He's kept all of that, and has added a more personal and mature approach to his songs. The way he laments a lost love in, 'Love Is A Laserquest', is one of the Arctics' most heartbreaking and solemn pieces of music to date. Over a single, delicate guitar, Turner sings: "And I convince myself I need another/ For a minute it gets easier to pretend that you were just some lover." An ode to the one that got away; the one you cannot stop thinking about. Turner's had previous experience in this field; see: '505' and 'Cornerstone' - but the longing and pining have never sounded this way before. It all relates back to the maturing process. Fact is, the older you get, the more these things seem to hurt.
Elsewhere, the album contains some of the band's most straightforward, yet brilliant pop to date. Opener, 'She's Thunderstorms', is a Stone roses-esque belter: pounding, thunderous drums give way to a jangly guitar line, whilst Turner sings about the 'she' in question, enthralling him with everything she does. Further on, 'The Hellcat Spangles Shalalala', sounds exactly like the title suggests it should; it's a glistening piece of pure pop, complete with handclaps and - yes, you guessed it - a shalalala sung chorus. The title track continues in a similar vein; its doomed relationship themed lyrics juxtaposing with the quite gorgeous melody bubbling underneath. Christ, they even throw in some four-part harmonies toward the end of the song for good measure. Tellingly, the only weak point on the album is the one song that harks back to the Humbug era: the middling 'All My Own Stunts'.
The final track on the album, 'That's Where You're Wrong', again centres on a relationship; this time the beginnings of one. But it could just as easily be referring to the nature of growing up; of things changing in your life - whether for better or worse. "There are no handles for you to hold/ And no understanding of where it goes", Turner sings. Change can be exciting - but it sure as hell is daunting. Sometimes you just want the familiarity of the past or a soothing hit of nostalgia reminding you of a moment already gone. Strange thing is - at around the 2.30 mark of this song - that is exactly what you get. A crashing wall of guitars kicks in, eerily reminiscent of the coda of their debut's finest song, 'A Certain Romance'. It's a peculiar but comforting moment. That's the thing about growing up - it doesn't necessarily have to be a terrifying concept, because you'll still have your memories and moments that shaped you as a person to begin with; it's then up to you whether or not to embrace change and start living for the future. On Suck It And See, it would seem Arctic Monkeys have had no problem in doing that at all.