Arctic Monkeys – Humbug (Domino) 24/08/2009
August 28, 2009 by Addict Music
Very few bands can enjoy the accolades and attention that the Arctic Monkeys have been afforded. Their debut album ‘Whatever People Say I Am…’ broke all records to become the fastest selling debut album and their second album nearly shifted just as many units. They headlined Glastonbury festival off the back off one album, and have more awards on their mantlepiece then any musician could dream of achieving in a lifetime, and most incredibly all of this achieved under the age of 25.
However, that’s not to say all their press and attention has been positive. Detractors have often pointed out that their songs lack any real musicianship, and largely rely on simple punchy riffs underpinned by Matt Helder’s frantic and prominent drumming. Add to this the label of a northern Libertines and accusations of jumping on the Strokes/Libs bandwagon, it made perfect sense that their second album ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ delved deeper into Alex Turner’s hazy weed fuelled world and attempted to assert the Arctic Monkey’s ‘sound’. But being a sophomore effort it was always going to be trapped by fans’ expectations and demands.
‘Humbug’ comes at a time when Alex Turner has spent the past year flexing his vocal skills and song-writing scope with best friend Miles Kane, as part of Last Of The Shadow Puppets. Whilst the rest of the band have been hanging out in the desert with Queens Of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. This mini hiatus has lead to the band returning as a more assured outfit, more confident in their own abilities and not afraid to develop their own unique sound.
Turner’s lyrics now turn from the observational third person to the introspective. A brave step for a lyricist best known for his cynical and witty observations of life, but one which is by no means ill judge. His lyrical witticism still remain and his penmanship unrivalled in it’s ability to twist and form new tropes and metaphors. From the off Turner is dealing with the complexities of his own human condition and the intricacies of his relationships are laid bare to the listener. ‘My Propeller’ recognises his frustrations at his own inability’s ‘my propeller won’t spin and I can’t get it started on my own.’ and previous single Crying Lightning screams of anguish with a past lover ‘ I hate that little game you had called crying lightning’. The lyrical anguish culminates as Turner yells ‘What came frist the chicken or the dickhead?’ on ‘Pretty Visitors’.
Homme’s influence permeates throughout the album and compliments Turner’s new lyrical direction perfectly. The guitars are no longer rough and naive and bass lines no longer sound awkward and simplistic. The bass lines now ooze and squelch over the beats and guitars soar and shimmer throughout, recalling contorted horror movie scores. Combined with Turner’s new-found vocal abilities, Humbug creates an atmosphere which at times verges on the macabre, but one which is constantly compelling.
Humbug finds the Arctic Monkeys in a transitional period. They now sound like a band reassuringly confident in their own abilities and one that is still only just finding their own sound and musical direction. Although the album does not contain as many memorable moments as the previous two it more than stands up. The precedent has now been set for album number four and hopefully this is just the beginning of their musical explorations.
By Chris Cummins