Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review of Arctic Monkey's new album 'Humbug'

Arctic Monkeys
HERE’S A question. What to do after releasing the fastest-selling debut album in British music history, scooping the Mercury Music Prize and a nomination for your second album, both reaching number one in the charts and having already moved in a different direction with your side project the Last Shadow Puppets?
The answer for Alex Turner and his fellow Arctic Monkeys was to take themselves into the desert with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and record a much more considered and deliberate third album than the frenzied Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not and Favourite Worst Nightmare, the first two Monkeys albums, the latter which Turner has admitted they “banged out in two weeks”.
Homme brought the band to Rancho De La Luna in Joshua Tree to record the bulk of this album, before it was finished with James Ford in New York, who worked with the band on album number two.
Turner has revealed that the band listened to Hendrix and Cream while writing the album and this is apparent. There is an old-school scuzzy rock feel to this album and fans of the pepped up offerings of the first two albums might be put off by the spacey rock on offer here, the only throwback to the style of those albums appearing on ‘Pretty Visitors’ and the early parts of ‘Potion Approaching’, which descends into a Doors-esque space out for a finish.
Turner’s songwriting is also as lyrical and imaginative as ever, plumbing deeper depths here than ever before, allegories and dark themes twisting their way around and through the ten tracks on offer. However, while he is at pains to dismiss the notion of him as merely cheeky chappy, his wry wit still abounds here - ‘What came first, the chicken or the dickhead?’ he sings on Pretty Visitor.
But it is the eerie menace of this album that is eye-opening, plus the liberal use of keyboards and guitar solos, the latter in particular which have never graced a Monkeys offering before, beyond short two or three second bursts.
This is clearly Homme’s influence at work.
It is clear from the opener My Propeller that Homme has steered the Sheffield unit away from the urgency of Riot Van and Mardy Bum, the song growling with reverb and thumping bass - oozing decadence.
The first single, Crying Lightning, shows the influence of the Shadow Puppets, an eerie wail in the background while a military style drumbeat greets Turner’s hushed vocal – “I hate that little game – twisted and deranged, I hate that little game you had called crying lightning”.
‘Dangerous Animals’ boasts the most obvious classic rock influence, a deliciously dark riff pumping through the song.
It is ‘Secret Door’ that might cause jaws to drop however, as Turner hits higher notes than heard before, definitely a follow on from the vocal heights hit with his pal Miles Kane on the Last Shadow Puppets album. There are echoes of the Doors Unknown Soldier on this, Turner warbling as his band mates ‘ooh and aah’ in the background.
The rattlesnake opening of Fire and the Thud is chilling, evocative of the desert location it was recorded in. Out of nowhere the song tears into psychedelic rock territory before slowing to a satisfying crawl – guest vocalist Alison Mosshart of the Kills helping out on vocals.
This is one of the highlights of the album.
The shimmering guitars and heavy drums of Dance Little Liar cover more harmonies and hushed vocals; this, the second longest track on the album boasting yet more guitar solos.
The album climaxes in the opaque rock offering of The Jeweller’s Hands, all tingly xylophone keys and military drums - a jaunty, almost strangely hope-filled offering, considering its menacing beat.
The infectious throb of the song will ring in your head for days, but while clocking in at nearly six minutes, there is no over-indulgence here, rather a dizzying climax to a most unexpectedly different album from the Sheffield band.
Who would have thought the Monkey’s would evolve to this point when they first blazed onto the scene?
Thankfully for us all, they have, and how splendidly.
'Humbug' is available in shops this Friday, August 21.

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