Last month BBC Sheffield confirmed that the Arctic Monkeys were back in Sheffield to record their sixth studio album. This announcement comes a little over a decade after their first release, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. This debut quickly became the fastest selling debut album by a band in British music history. This announcement is what prompted me to select them for this month’s discography exploration.
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not – 2006 (Domino Records)
The Arctic Monkeys come out punching, kicking, clawing and with a “bang b-b bang”. They come together very well on most tracks, delivering a punk infused collection of tracks that are ready to kick your teeth in. The album’s theme centers on the nightlife in the band’s hometown of Sheffield, from run-ins with the coppers to dancing in local clubs.
- Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor
- Fake Tales Of San Francisco
- Riot Van
- Mardy Bum *My Pick
- A Certain Romance
“So all that’s left is the proof that love’s not only blind, but deaf” – Fake Tales Of San Francisco
“I see your frown and it’s like looking down the barrel of a gun” – Mardy Bum
“There’s only music, so there’s new ringtones” – A Certain Romance
It’s not unsurprising for me to hear a debut album that does not stretch beyond the immediate surroundings of the band. Still, much of the album considers subjects that are not incomprehensible to regular people. The production is very subtle; they’ve maintained a lo-fi/indie feel but make compositional decisions indicating a level of maturity not found in most debuts. The album is just flexible enough to keep me interested and optimistic about the band’s growth. My favourite aspects of the album are its rawness, well-timed change of pace and melodies.
Favorite Worst Nightmare – 2007 (Domino Records)
Little over a year after their debut, the Arctic Monkeys released a follow up record that holds true to their core vibe, but explores what other sounds that may include. The fuzzy groove they have now found supports the maturation of front man Alex Turner as a lyricist. It’s a darker album, done better.
- Fluorescent Adolescent
- Only Ones Who Know
- If You Were There, Beware
- The Bad Thing
- 505 *My Pick
“The best you ever had is just a memory” – Fluorescent Adolescent
“They made it far too easy to believe that true love can’t be achieved these days” – Only Ones Who Know
“We’re forever unfulfilled and can’t think why. Like a search for murder clues in dead man’s eyes” – This House Is A Circus
“The middle of adventure, such a perfect place to start” – 505
For me, this album marks the becoming of the Arctic Monkeys as a self-conscious band (that is to say they are aware of everything they do and how it contributes to the music). Alex Turner’s lyrics move beyond the individuals to the relationships between them. In comparison to their previous album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, while not devoid of the accustomed confrontational sentiments, boasts a more critical approach to song writing. We begin to see a more produced sound on this album, no doubt a result of the partnership with James Ford, who goes on to help produce the remainder of Arctic Monkey albums.
Humbug – 2009 (Domino Records)
While the debut featured scenes from Sheffield and all that that scene entails, Humbug is an obvious result of the exposure that comes with fame, touring and being in the city. This album plays like a penthouse suite at 3:00 in the morning, where everyone’s in bed but not asleep. Alex Turner begins to explore larger themes in his lyrics like madness, regret and the darker side of relationships.
- Crying Lightning
- Secret Door
- Dance Little Lair *My Pick
- Pretty Visitors
“She swam out of tonight’s phantasm. Grabbed my hand and made it very clear, there’s absolutely nothing for us here” – Secret Doors
“In the jostling crowd you’re not allowed to tell the truth and the photo booth’s a liar” – Fire And The Thud
“And the clean coming will hurt and you can never get it spotless when there’s dirt beneath the dirt the liar takes a lot less time” – Dance Little Liar
“Your legs start running but your head gets caught” – Pretty Visitors
This album features an increased amount of slower paced tracks than previous records. In my opinion, this is a huge improvement. While I’m not averse to the plethora fast punching tracks found on every album since the debut, varying the pace within the album is paramount for keeping a listeners attention and avoiding the label of a one-trick pony. Queens of the Stone Age front man Josh Homme produced many of the tracks on this album and his influence is evident. Many, including myself, consider Humbug to be a precursor to their latest album, AM. These two albums share many similarities, primarily found in the lead and backing vocal’s timbre and melodies. Pretty Visitors is a track worth highlighting as I feel it embodies a union between the original Arctic Monkeys sound with their new sound. The verse is fast but the chorus features a slower, almost anthem-like repetition. The lyrics combine a literal scene you might witness and juxtaposes it with a surreal retelling a “crook” who messes with performers for his own amusement. A song both critical and confrontational.
Suck It And See – 2011 (Domino Records)
Suck It And See is probably my favourite Arctic Monkeys album. On this album they take a step back and return to their minimally produced sound and opt for a style closer to rock and roll than it is to the dream rock sound found on Humbug. It’s their most listenable release, boasting a collection of some of their most catchy tunes.
- Black Treacle
- The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala
- Reckless Serenade *My Pick
- Piledriver Waltz
- Suck It And See
“She does what the night does to the day” – She’s Thunderstorms
“And I tried last night to pack away the laugh, like a key under the mat. But it never seems to be there when you want it” – Black Treacle
“I took the batteries out my mysticism and put ’em in my thinking cap” – The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala
“And sorrow slow dances around the edges of her eyes” – All My Own Stunts
“Called up to listen to the voice of reason but got the answering machine” – Reckless Serenade
“If you’re gonna try and walk on water make sure you wear your comfortable shoes” – Piledriver Waltz
“And do you look into a mirror to remind yourself you’re there? – Love Is A Laserquest
“I poured my aching heart into a pop song. I couldn’t get the hang of poetry” – Suck It And See
There is something so undeniably old-school about this album. From the spinning chorus on Black Treacle to the “shalalala’s” on The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala this album drips of rock and roll. While songs like Brick By Brick and Don’t Sit Down Cuz I’ve Moved Your Chair still subscribe to the reckless hard-hitting sound found on their earlier records. Lyrically, Alex Turner is just as clever as ever with lighthearted love songs set to sweet melodies like Reckless Serenade and sorrowful laments like Love Is A Laserquest.
AM – 2013 (Domino Records)
The most recent of albums poses an interesting conundrum. What is the future of this band? AM features as many genres as you could possibly fit in an album while maintaining cohesion. It is my opinion that while this isn’t the Arctic Monkeys that we have all come to know and love, this isn’t a new band either. This sound has always been lingering just under the surface. A masterfully crafted kaleidoscope.
- Do I Wanna Know
- 1 Party Anthem
- Knee Socks
- Snap Out Of It
- I Wanna Be Yours
“Call off the search for your soul” – No 1. Party Anthem
“Takes a sip of your soul and it sounds like” – Arabella
“Love buckles under the strain of those wild nights. Run but you cannot hide” – Mad Sounds
“I heard that you fell in love, or near enough” – Snap Out Of It
“Well you cured my January blues, yea you made it all alright” – Knee Socks
This is a certainly an album for the modern day listener; someone whose taste spans a multitude of genres. And while I don’t consider it to be the definitive Arctic Monkeys album, it is a fantastic collection of songs for the new listener to get introduced to them as a band. AM is the lovechild of Humbug and Suck It and See that ran away from home when it was 16 to start a nightclub in Los Angeles. The album does a fantastic job of combining RnB, Soul, Blues, with the punk infused garage rock found on every other album.
The case with many bands is that their discography depicts a linear journey, from youth to maturity. Like a birthday of sorts that marks the growth of the band and how they’ve changed over the years. The kicker with the Arctic Monkeys is that their releases have been not a linear progression but a cyclical one, spiraling upwards to the truest from of the band. The definitive Arctic Monkeys can never be found on any given studio release but what they’ve told us through their music, AM specifically, is that they are not beholden to any given genre. The true sound of the Arctic Monkeys transcends genre and that is what makes them one of the best modern bands to listen too. We’ll keep our ears to the ground, eagerly awaiting their next release.