I’m one of those people who prefer the youthful energy and bite of Arctic Monkeys first two albums to their latest two preceding ‘AM’. Until I heard ‘AM’ in full I’d always viewed their musical maturation as a step backwards in terms of quality, but their latest album makes full use of the bands new found purpose and awareness in a way that truly surprised me.
‘AM’ is a record that brings a little bit of that old Arctic Monkeys energy into the picture, which I feel their last two albums lacked. It isn’t a throwback to the bands beginnings but instead channels that spark and uses it to flesh out the record, stopping it from being a 2D experience. However, ‘AM’ is still for the most part stylish and slick and sees the band become ‘artists’ in a sense, rather than musicians. There’s a real sense of confidence and swagger about the 12 songs that make up ‘AM’ and some are considerably better than others at displaying the bands talent.
The three songs already released (‘Do I Wanna Know?’, ‘R U Mine’ and ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’) are where ‘AM’ really shines. The opener is a slow and crawling beast that builds, creating an atmosphere fairly unrivalled in terms of scope this year. It’s the best example of the confidence I previously mentioned, with the song oozing class throughout. It also sets the tone for a fairly dark album atmospherically because ‘AM’ has a lot of these slow burners and although they are well done they do sometimes fall a little flat, acting as little more than fillers. ‘R U Mine?’ Is the most reminiscent of old Arctic Monkeys material being fast paced, both vocally and instrumentally. It’s clever and feisty, with strong vocals that provide catchy moments, especially during the acapella moment before the final chorus. For me it was the best track, followed closely by ‘Arabella’, which is excellent lyrically, with pounding dynamic instrumentals punctuating the chorus. The ironically named ‘No.1 Party Anthem’ has a very Beatles-esque feel to it, and it’s one of the better low tempo tracks. I found the second half of ‘AM’ to be much weaker and I wasn’t as hooked as I was during the first six tracks. This could be due to the slow songs I mentioned earlier, and even the more energetic songs like ‘Fireside’ seemed watered down. Ultimately, ‘AM’ is a album of highs and lows, with the better moments occurring early on.
It’s been common knowledge for a while now that Alex Turner is one of the best vocalists and songwriters in British music, and ‘AM’ is no break in form. It’s excellently written, and Turner shines vocally throughout. His voice is perfectly balanced, being sultry when needed and more intense when the pace demands it. The vocal addition of producer Josh Homme brings a bit of variety to the tracks he contributes to, but he’s never really put to use. In terms of instrumentals, I haven’t heard an album recently that utilises bass guitar as well as ‘AM’. This is partly due to a more groove orientated sound, and I found myself drawn more so towards the bass in songs like ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ than the electric guitars. ‘AM’ is definitely impressive in terms of it’s tight, controlled sound, being another reflection of the bands talent for writing catchy and contagious songs.
‘AM’ served as a wake up call of sorts for me, and made me look at the bands musical development in a new way. I definitely prefer it to ‘Humbug’ and ‘Suck It And See’, which is ultimately what I wanted to take from it. I wanted proof that Arctic Monkeys were on the right path, and ‘AM’ suggests that they are. There’s still room for improvement and growth, but hopefully the band use it as a foundation to build on, potentially making for an excellent end product.
Rating – 7.5/10