Album Review: Arctic Monkeys — Music for the Wee Hours of the “AM”

AM, the Sheffield band’s fifth album and their heaviest and danciest to date, isn’t for pre-gaming, or the start of the party. It’s for the wee hours, when the fog is thickest and you should really know better but just can’t help yourself.

Cover Art of Arctic Monkeys' AM album.

Cover Art of Arctic Monkeys’ AM album.

AM, Arctic Monkeys. The album will be available on CD, Vinyl, special edition vinyl, and via digital download.

By Adam Ellsworth

When it was first announced that the new Arctic Monkeys album would simply be called AM, it seemed like the laziest of titles. This from a band that gave us Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, and Suck it and See? An acronym? That was the best they could come up with?

Thankfully, Queens of the Stone Age leader, and frequent Arctic Monkeys collaborator, Josh Homme shed some light on the title’s actual meaning shortly thereafter, explaining it to us mere mortals.

“I sang on the new Arctic Monkeys record,” he told NME in July. “It’s a really cool, sexy after-midnight record. It’s called AM, so I guess that’s really obvious.”

Oh. That “AM.” Glad he cleared that up.

Like its title suggests, AM, the Sheffield band’s fifth album and their heaviest and danciest to date, isn’t for pre-gaming, or the start of the party. It’s for the wee hours, when the fog is thickest and you should really know better but just can’t help yourself.

“Now it’s three in the morning, and I’m tryin’ to change your mind,” Alex Turner sings on “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” If you’re looking for a thesis statement, those lyrics and that title are it.

Sticking with the theme of drunk dialing, Turner croons on the slinky album opener “Do I Wanna Know?” that “the nights were mainly made for saying things that you can’t say tomorrow day,” and in the chorus asks, “Ever thought of calling when you’ve had a few?” Shit man, who hasn’t! Musically, “Do I Wanna Know?” is an impeccable blend of rock guitars and hip hop rhythm. Matt Helders’ opening drums jump out of the speakers and the guitar riff is positively menacing. It’s a song on the prowl.

Second track “R U Mine?” cranks the guitars (played by Turner and Jamie Cook) up even further. “R U Mine?” was originally released as a standalone single in the spring of 2012, well before the band entered the studio to begin work on AM, and it clearly set the tone for what the album would become.

Rock and rhythm really collide on the interstellar “Arabella.” The song starts with funky bass courtesy of Nick O’Malley, a sultry vocal delivery, and spacy lyrics. Then, out of nowhere…is that the riff from “War Pigs?” Arctic Monkeys do Sabbath! Who saw that coming? “I Want it All” follows, and while there are no Black Sabbath references, we’re definitely still up in the exosphere. Over a synthy-guitar sound, a high pitch voice sings, “Ain’t it just like you to kiss me, and then hit the road? / Leave me listening to the Stones, ‘2000 Light Years from Home.’” That’s not a song you want to be listening to by yourself.

“One for the Road,” “Fireside,” and “Knee Socks,” spread over the course of the album, take AM deeper into dance territory. They aren’t glitchy dubstep or clean, disco Daft Punk, though. Instead, they’re all slightly murky, blurry, and filled with intoxicated R & B swagger. “Fireside” in particular feels like two sets of bleary ex-lover eyes meeting across the dance floor against their better judgment. “Has it gone for good, or is it coming back around?” Turner sings. The obvious answer is “gone for good,” but caution got thrown to the wind about three drinks ago.

If all this heavy riffing and dirty dancing doesn’t sound like the Arctic Monkeys you remember, fret not. Smack dab in the middle of AM sit “No. 1 Party Anthem” and “Mad Sounds.” Despite the title of the former, these are not club bangers, but melodic comedowns. Either would have fit beautifully on 2011’s Suck it and See. In fact, “Mad Sounds” would have fit nicely on a post-John Cale Velvet Underground album. It’s in the discussion with “Cornerstone,” “Reckless Serenade,” and “Mardy Bum” for best Arctic Monkeys melody ever.

“Snap Out of It” is the odd duck on the album, in the sense that it’s not heavy, dancey, or especially melodic. It’s still a fine piece of lively pop though. Basically the hippest Hall and Oates song you’ve ever heard.

Speaking of odd (or at least unusual) AM closes with “I Wanna Be Yours,” a poem by John Cooper Clarke that the Monkeys set to music. The poem, not to mention the poet, isn’t very well known in the States, but in the U.K. it’s a regular standard. People have it read at their wedding, and students study it in school, which is how Alex Turner first heard it.

“I was your typical teenager,” Turner has said, “trying to be cool and not interested and the teacher proceeded to read ‘I Wanna Be Yours,’ doing an impression of Johnny. It made my ears prick up in the classroom because it was nothing like anything I’d heard, especially on this syllabus. Had I not seen him do his thing, I wouldn’t have started writing like that.”

While the words belong to Clarke, the performance on AM definitely belongs to Turner and company. This isn’t the version to play as you walk down the aisle. This is the version to play at 4 a.m. when you’re trying to close the deal. It’s a slow burner, maybe even a bona fide slow jam, and it will get results. But don’t judge. In a few hours, the sun will be up and perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the happy couple is going to the chapel. Or maybe it’s just a prelude to cab fare and a headache. Either way, it was worth it, right?

Posted in , , ,

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts