Can this really be five albums in for Arctic Monkeys? It seems like just yesterday that they burst onto the scene with the fastest selling debut album of all time - with all that attitude and energy. But like a firework, there is only so long all that crack and fizzle can last - and much of that teenage audience that loved them in the first two years moved on as soon as the flickering colours began to fade. For those that have stuck around with Britain's best rock band, the rewards have been substantial , except on the often dreary and heavy feel of third album Humbug.
For many of the younger fans Alex Turner grew up too quickly - maturing into a crooning rock singer, before they were ready to let go of the firey and cheeky, Yorkshire-accented star of the Dancefloor. It may be that Turner and his band grew up before their fans did. From those early days though, it was always clear they were a cut above other British bands - and Arctic Monkeys' trajectory was always going to quickly take them from Sheffield to America - where the musical boundaries seem much less limiting. For Suck It And See, there was a good helping of LA sunshine, for the band's poppiest album but here that shinier sheen has been mixed with a touch of Humbug's dirtier desert grooves. But unlike on Humbug, the production hasn't squeezed the life out of most of the tunes.
Of the tracks that previewed the album - Do I Wanna Know is the better indication of what to expect, with its perfect guitar riff, sensual groove and languid poetry. It is possibly the band's best song since Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor - while R U Mine's slightly frenzied mood seems out of place here. Do I Wanna Know's lyrical themes also dominate the album, with Turner's apparent infatuation with a mystery woman - his ex is keeping him up drinking all night (Do I Wanna Know), annoying him with messages when she's wasted (Why Do You Only Call Me When You're High?) and taking him to back to her place in the early hours (One For The Road). The subject of his tortured desires is maybe Arabella - who is name checked on one of the album's rockier moments.
Perhaps it is deliberate but AM might not be a reference to the band name but to the time of day when this album should be listened to - with an overbearing sense of late night. Darkness and the early hours are often referenced and the music moves from raunchy grooves on the opening Do I Wanna Know? to guilty desires on the sublime closer I Wanna Be Yours - just like those unforgettable late nights that you never want to end. In between there are all the classic Arctic Monkeys hallmarks - clever lyrical observation ("...in my heart there's this hotel suite and you lived there so long..." on the terrific Fireside), top class drumming from Matt Helders and Turner's extraordinary flair for expressive singing; he has the ability to sing with a rhythm that normally the very best rappers achieve. But not to be underplayed is the backing singing from Helders and the band. There are many "shoo waps" that work splendidly to supplement Turner's prose.
No1 Party Anthem is a typical Arctic Monkeys ballad with a nod towards Cornerstone (from Humbug) while Why Do You Only Call Me When You're High proving that Turner has been listening to Dr Dre in the making of AM; the grooves come right from that genre and underline why they are a band way ahead of the competition.
The album is not perfect though (the T-Rex 70s rock of I Want It All for example) - and there's a fall in pace mid way through that is saved in spectacular fashion by Fireside which begins the final sweep of five songs that ARE almost perfect, with the poppier Knee Socks and Snap Out of It leading to the gorgeous conclusion of the band's musical interpretation of the John Cooper Clarke poem I Wanna Be Yours. As the Mercury nomination proves, this is still a classic Arctic Monkeys album. No one can touch them for modern rock music - and even though some of the early sparkle has been lost, the fire is very much still raging - and they are a band we Brits should be very proud of.Suggest a correction