Rebel rousing Sheffield rockers Arctic Monkeys are back with their 7th album release ‘The Car’. Another divisive album that will upset those looking for a return to the youthful giddy days of cheeky indie rock. Arctic Monkeys build upon the foundations of Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino although this time the band are firmly rooted back on earth.
We start with 70s noir soundtrack “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball’; the lead single which encapsulates the mood of the album expertly. Sparse instrumentation with a beautifully intricate string arrangement. Alex Turner has a forlorn demeanour as he elegantly depicts the ending of a relationship “I’m sure to have a heavy heart”. As the pained relationship peters out Turner’s insistence for one last waltz before breaking apart “there’d better be a mirror ball” shows an acceptance of a relationships demise whilst still protectively holding dear the moments of love and intimacy they once shared. The single, like most on this album, finds itself stagnant in one tempo which takes a beautifully introspective and weightless jaunt and floats you waveringly close to tedium.
‘I Aint Quite Where I Think I Am’ follows, it’s squelchy funk colluding with harmonious strings to create an unprecedented Arctic Monkeys track. Turner’s vocal inflections sit uneasily, distracting the listener from the most intriguing element of the track; it’s instrumentation. Turner sounds like someone riffing lyrics over the top and every few lines land. There’s a gaping hole in the track where the chorus should lie and despite it discovering new territory it doesn’t evolve beyond what you hear in the first minute. Rather aptly Alex Turner just like his fans are unsure where they are now with Arctic Monkeys; A band transitioning from guitar anthems to lounging art house.
‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’ has a trudging menacing aura. It has the feeling of spectacle about it with the grandiose strings once again simmering away before engulfing the track and leaving it by the wayside. ‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’ sees Turner almost spiteful in his approach, kicking out at those critical of the new era of Arctic Monkeys “puncturing your bubble of relatability with your horrible new sound”. It’s a track with purpose and bite to it which creates a new and interesting dynamic.
‘Jet Skis on the moat’ continues the trope of ridiculously named song titles from Arctic Monkeys. A dance partner to ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’ with its sedate funk conjugation. This ambling one note exploration is less interesting than its predecessor however, feeling like an unnecessary revisiting of an idea that wasn’t all to interesting the first time around. Ironically Turner sings in the chorus “are you happy to sit there and watch while the paint job dries” and that might be the perfect description of how it feels listening to this track.
‘Body Paint’ is a jazz infused sauntering piano ballad. The lads have got their lab coats and oversized goggles on and this time they’ve got the measurements perfect. ‘Body Paint’ is the magnum opus; the perfect demonstration that Arctic Monkeys can construct a beautifully intriguing concoction that has the allure of repeated listens. The song opens with its delicate chimed keyboard riff with Turner’s moody swagger cascading across. There’s beauty in the space that Arctic Monkeys choose to leave. It’s far from the frenetic early days where every microcosm of a Monkeys track was filled to the brim with abrasive guitars and pounding drums. It takes confidences to allow space to breathe and leave silence. The sonic shift in the latter half drives the song out of 2nd gear; we’re treated to a glam rock guitar riff which, with Turner’s vocal delivery is definitely more than a nod to Ziggy Stardust era Bowie.
For those who are not a fan of Alex Turner’s bravado and faux pretentious performance then ‘Hello You’ might be one to swerve. It sees Turner at his most braggadocios and arrogant. The nonsensical lyrics will either make you laugh with a wry smile or make your piss boil “Lego napoleon movie written in noble gas filled glass tubes underlined in sparks”. With this being said ‘Hello You’ sees the band in full body and is one of the bright sparks of the record.
Arctic Monkeys are maturing and the orchestral arrangements on the record are it’s shining beacon. Tranquility had its detractors, potentially too big a shift too soon. Shy and introspective, there was an overriding sense that neither fan nor band were completely convinced at this juncture. We rode along through the rough and smooth with the band who were stripped bare and exposed learning to perfect this new sound with a global audience present to witness. Tranquility sparingly contained inspired moments and bursts of optimism but often swayed into sounding like a half baked Bowie tribute. The band are more self assured with ‘The Car’ and the confidence in their venture is transcendent. They are comfortable in this space they have created for themselves and the tracks feel smoother and more enticing for it. ‘The Car’ is a motif for a band in continuous movement and ever evolving . Arctic Monkeys have brought the car to a halt momentarily allowing the listener to peer out of the window and witness the sonic soundscapes the band have built. A world that reflects their state of mind; being an indie band from Sheffield 20 years later and 7 albums deep. Where’s the next destination?
Key Track: Body Paint