10 September 2009

Arctic Monkeys - Humbug

These days, virtually every big record has a collection of buzzwords mentioned in every preview, review, interview and article associated with it, and "Humbug" is no different. Mentions of Turner & co's third effort have never been far from the words "dark", "mature" or "Josh Homme". Regular producer James Ford has been reduced to involvement on just three tracks, whilst band idol Homme has guided them to somewhere a world away from the Sheffield nightclubs and dancefloors associated with the Monkey's debut. It would appear Britain's biggest band of the moment are growing up.

Pre-album hype may have been just that, as mutterings of Black Sabbath and psychedelic influences aren't exactly at the fore of "Humbug". If anything, it's more Last Shadow Puppets than QOTSA in places. Opener "My Propeller" could have comfortably slotted in on "The Age Of The Understatement" had a string section been tacked on. It gives the biggest hint that Turner's songwriting and ear for a melody has been honed to perfection thanks to his work with Miles Kane. "Mardy Bum" it ain't. That's not to say it's wholly inaccessible, pretty much the opposite in fact. It's very easy to imagine the Monkeys hitting the upper echelons of the charts should they pick their singles well from "Humbug" (perhaps unsuprising to discover the most chart-friendly tracks are the Ford-produced ones). For the casual listener (a.k.a your mum/dad/uncle with questionable taste/chavvy cousin who liked "When The Sun Goes Down"), this album will take a fair few more listens to "click" than the previous two. This may be a bit of a cop-out but it's a grower.

Even if you find yourself enjoying it on the first few times, repeat listening is required to appreciate how far the band has, pardon the pun, evolved. Turner has turned into an unusual mix of Nick Cave and Morrissey in the body of Jim Morrisson, Jamie Cook is growing into a damn good guitarist whilst the rhythm section of Matt Helders and Nick O'Malley dominate a hefty chunk of the album, in particular "Pretty Visitors", possibly the band's heaviest track to date. Turner's vocals have gone from the spikey adolescent quasi-rap that characterised their debut, to a smooth, almost-lounge lizard croon that undoubtedly suits the tone of the record. The darker, sexed-up likes of "Dangerous Animals" and "Fire And The Thud" wouldn't exactly suit the mile-a-minute delivery of yesteryear. That's not to say that everything on the album is "mature" i.e. darker, moody etc, as two standout tracks are possibly the most obvious ballads Turner has ever written. If you shut your eyes "Secret Door" and "Cornerstone" could be offcuts from the Last Shadow Puppets, and as both bands progress, it's likely that the similarities will keep on increasing.

"Humbug" is nowhere near the difficult album some are making it out to be. To those with a wide taste, or even those who just like good songs the new set of songs will be immediately accessible. But any fan lusting after songs about "Topshop princesses" and being "thrown in the riot van" will be severely disappointed for the remainder of the Arctics' career. As they stated a few years ago "We'll stick to the guns/ Don't care if it's marketing suicide/We won't crack or compromise". If that results in more of the same as "Humbug", then good on them.


No comments: