Siobahn Gallagher takes charge of this week’s Rank The Albums as she counts down former Reading headliner and indie leading lights Arctic Monkeys’ back catalogue.
Arctic Monkeys’ most recent album, and arguably their worst, Suck It and See, carried a very White Album influenced cover art, but their White Album it was not. Moving away from the desert rock influences of Humbug, James Ford was back in the production seat, having taken charge for their sophomore album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. The thrills are limited: the quirky neo-grunge of “Don‘t Sit Down….” shows a new side yet the same hard grit and wit of beforehand and the early days are briefly recalled in the urgent “Library Pictures.” The 80s-esque album closer “That’s Where You’re Wrong” takes in new territory showing glimpses of Echo & the Bunnymen, whilst the plucky “Reckless Serenade” ends in a swirling jangle pop riff. But other than that, there a lot of forgettable tracks that continue in the same vein: jangle pop and very reminiscent of 80s Britannia.
It’s a good listen and shows their continuing expanding catalogue, but lacks any bite or invigorating tunes to get the listener coming back for more. It’s the perfect album for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Arctic Monkeys were back with album no.3 in Humbug, but there was a noticeable change in direction. Gone were the songs about nights out in Sheffield, which was understandable given the million-selling band were no longer frustrated inhabitants of small town England, instead being were replaced by progressive and psychedelic rock influences helped by their producer, one Josh Homme. The Los Angeles and Mojave desert recording sessions helped to authenticate their new reverb-laden sound. The Nick Cave-influenced “My Propeller” was a downbeat opener which signalled the band’s intentions away from the heavy-riffed Favourite Worst Nightmare, though “Crying Lightning” was a more aggressive affair, with stadium rock riffs and Alex Turner’s detailed dirty lyricism about obsession and manipulation. “Cornerstone” was wordsmith Turner’s dreamy, broken-hearted lovelorn tale, with “Potion Approaching” as the Zeppelin-style psychdelia of the album.
It showed their capabilities of expanding on their sound, whilst still remaining popular, and showed they had the staying power that could have easily imploded after the mammoth success of their debut (see The Stone Roses.)
The album that turned them from four ordinary Sheffield teenagers, into (arguably) the biggest British band since the heydays of Oasis. With tales referencing nightclubs, drinking, dates, fights and taxi rides home, told in a broad south Yorkshire accent, it was a glimpse into working class British life that everyone can equate to, and was part of the reason why the Monkeys were so popular with audiences from day one. Putting aside its themes, the raw, spiky guitar work, reminiscent of British indie greats The Smiths and contemporary acts such as The Strokes, is arguably its most captivating feature, with the likes of “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”, “A Certain Romance” and “Mardy Bum,” both easily accessible and exhilarating. It was Turner’s lyricism, as social realistic as the kitchen sink drama that they took the album name from, managing to make every line sound witty, reminiscent, poignant or heavily quotable, that belied the age of a band who were still teenagers when they recorded the album.
It will certainly go down as the Monkeys’ classic record, but whether it is their best remains to be argued.
The often touted ‘second album syndrome’ didn’t affect Arctic Monkeys one iota, even with their record-breaking debut album blowing their hype off the radar. When faced with the amount of hype for their first record, the follow up Favourite Worst Nightmare, would either be a disaster or brilliant. Thankfully, it was the latter and proved that Arctic Monkeys were not a flash in the pan and were here to stay. Releasing another Whatever People Say I Am… was never their intention. They beefed up their sound, with snarling anthems such as “Brianstorm”, “Teddy Picker” and “D is for Dangerous”, although the adolescence in Turner’s song writing was still apparent in the mischievous “Balaclava”, “Fluorescent Adolescent,” “The Bad Thing” and “This House is a Circus.” But the standout in the Monkeys’ armour, is the depth they show in both song writing and composition. The break-up anthem “Do Me A Favour” is sad and sombre, prior to launching into a pulsating climax with loud guitars and thundering drums, arguably the album’s finest hour. The atmospheric “Only Ones Who Knew,” stripped the band of their muscle. The odd, nostalgia of “Old Yellow Bricks” and the fuzzy noise rock “If You Where There, Beware” added a new dimension to their catalogue of hits, with album closer “505”, an adventurous journey complete with organ sampling and pianos.
The quartet had stepped up a plate. No longer were Arctic Monkeys solely a depiction of working class Northern England, they had summed up their place as Britain’s best new band.