Back in 2006 I was still discovering the work of music made popular by hipster kids and Pitchfork.com. My tastes have always been eclectic, running the gamut from jazz to hip-hop to classical to death metal (stay tuned next week as I attempt to parse the new Morbid Angel album), but at the time I was only just starting to hear about the bands the modern indie world was digging. So the first time someone told me about this English band called Arctic Monkeys and how amazing they were, I was dubious but willing to give it a chance considering my experience with what was going on at the time. I admit to being even more skeptical when I learned the name of their single was "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" and worse, the album was titled Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. Sounded like a lot of pretension in a rice-paper thin wrapper, if you asked me.
Well, no one did, and thank God, because what came out was a ridiculous dose of high energy, wit, and musicianship that was staggering considering so much that was popular at the moment could be learned in the span of a few moments. Here was a band unafraid to show they knew how to play, play well and intricate without sacrificing a keen sense of melody and fun, with a production that was up front and aggressive to the point of brashness. In a word, I loved it, and was even more impressed with their follow-up, Favourite Worst Nightmare, which took the musicianship and clever wordplay up to 11. It may have a bit much for folks who preferred the more pop-infused debut, but it was perfect for me. Things didn't get better for those folks on album #3, Humbug, produced by Josh Homme with the same loose, low-end rock energy evident in his own band, Queens of the Stone Age. "Foul!" cried the fans while I giggled away and enjoyed the sense of opening up and experimentation in sound the band was engaging in.
Which (finally) brings us up to date with Suck It and See, which manages to mix the looseness of Humbug with a softer, more inflective songwriting style frontman Alex Turner has been working on in both his side projects with the Arctic Monkeys. And if I miss the high energy and ultra tight, staccato rhythm of the earlier albums, there's an undeniable cohesiveness to Suck It and See that makes up for it, and enough going on musically to make you task notice of small tricks and flourishes you might have missed after the first and even second listens.
Opener "She's Thunderstorms" is deceptive: it feels weak for an opener, a slightly dreamy, melancholy pop song, ringing chords and reverb to spare. But by the third time through the album the song opened itself up to me: the harmonies in the chorus, the small chord changes that ratchet the tension of a line before just as quickly releasing it, and the lyrics, poetic and cutting without revealing too much of what the intent is. I'm not convinced it's a grate opener, but it's a great song.
From there things really start to pick up with "The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala" which moves from an Elvis Costello 80s R&B groove to a dripping wet modern chorus, with drummer Matt Helders playing everywhere, seemingly incapable of making a bad choice. If all the accolades go to Turner's vocal delivery and lyrics, Helders should be right behind him - he's one of the best drummers out there right now. He owns every second of single worthy songs like "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair" and "Literary Pictures", which sounds most like their earlier albums.
But if there's a standout track on Suck It and See, it's "All My Own Stunts", which manages to cram everything I love about Arctic Monkeys into a compact 3:52. Heavy, distorted guitars locked in step with the bass and drums, great lyrics that sway in their mood (with background vocals by Homme to boot), moving from ominous to cautious to resigned, and some frantic soloing to boot. Paired with the next track, the Lou Reed feeling "Reckless Serenade", it's one of the best 1-2 punches the band have released.
I don't think Suck It and See is going to go down as my favorite Arctic Monkeys album anytime soon, but it's a damn fine record, and proof that the band doesn't care in the least about repeating past successes. I can always go back to the earlier stuff, and for right now I'm perfectly happy to follow along, enthralled with where they want to go next.
Two in row...unbelievable! let's see if I can make it through the weekend. Next up is a cross-pollination post about a popular YA series that will also be up on Un:Bound. I may or may not make favorable comparisons to the series the below shot is taken from: