From boys to Homme
Dylan Strain reviews Arctic Monkeys' Humbug
I've been living with this album for six days. Must have heard it at least ten times plus I've seen the Reading Festival headline show.
Never before have the critics and perhaps music fans been so divided with this group, the biggest band in Britain and for the last couple of years, arguably the best.
Alex Turner exploded onto the scene in 2005 with impeccable lyrics coupled with the band's banging anthemic sing-a-longs detailing with stark honesty and humour, tales of urban youth.
Turner now lives in Manhattan having followed his girlfriend, TV presenter, model and fashionista Alexa Chung whilst she pursues the Stateside spotlight.
Humbug was recorded in the Californian desert under the stewardship of Queens of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme and in New York with producer James Ford.
Oh - facts & formalities, blah, blah, blah and so ...
I was worried, Turner had swapped Sheffield for US Glam and celebrity and I'd be subjected to a let down of ten tracks of rock toss. It didn't help that I'd heard there are no stand out singles and the album lacked hooks.
My Propeller is explicit, 'Carry On' rock n' roll, Alex urging his girl to rub him up the right way over dark brooding guitar riffs that set a style for this collection of songs.
He is a sexy bugger Mr Turner. Next up, thoughts getting rude once more during the beltingly original single Crying Lightning, which sees a character in battle and lust with a twisted woman with a penchant for pick n' mix confectionery. Dangerous Animal keeps it up, literally, with a femme fatale reminiscent from his side project long-player of 2008. 'Let's make a mess Lioness,' he suggests.
And then the beautiful opening chorus of Secret Door gently enters, right at the beginning of the song, it being one of two in the song. The lyrics are about celebrity nonsense at a gathering and the strong character of his girlfriend who tells him, "there's nothing for us here," taking him away from the event. The music though, leads us into a garden of eden and deception, in contrast to the words.
Potion Approaching shows a Doors influence. Devotion to a girl is proclaimed, but this is one of two that could have been left on the shelf of twenty four recorded for this release. The other is Pretty Visitors, experimental in sound and word, but it just doesn't work. This is rocked up overspill and as close to bollocks as I've ever heard from the Monkeys.
Otherwise, a trio of tunes nudge well along side one another ever so well. Fire and The Thud seems a very personal song about the Alex & Alexa story, and this reveals a new openness in his writing. Dance Little Liar highlights a harsh lesson on its way for a purveyor of mis-truth. And the last of these bedfellows is the last tune on here The Jeweller's Hands. Another deliciously dark atmosphere, the chorus hookily helped along by some wonderful keyboard and guitar swirls and strokes.
The stand out track has to be Cornerstone. Another new trick from the group, this is rooted in Americana, it's almost country music, I've never heard the like from them before. Turner paints a vivid portrait of man in search of his vanished love. It's all done with wit. And its hairs on the back of the neck stuff, as he sings the gorgeous chorus about his taxi ride with this legendary girl amongst sprinklings of deft guitar touches from Jamie Cook.
And I elongated my lift home / Yeah I let him go the wrong way round / I smelt your scent on the seatbelt / And kept my shortcuts to myself
As to their live shows, they're great live players but The Monkeys are often said to lack a connection with the audience and on that point Alex Turner remains an enigma. Monosyllabic, daftly trivial with his between song comments, then a wordsmith as a lyricist. I believe like so many musicians, he's a shy lad but one who I reckon will slowly show himself over time, of which Humbug shows some evidence of.
For men so young, all early twenties, they have dealt with their hype and fame remarkably well. They also continue to evolve and grow with each new recording.
On Jeweller's Hands there's a wonderful outro to the album, we hear repeatedly,
If you've a lesson to teach me / I'm listening / ready to learn
It sums the Arctic Monkeys up. Always moving forward. The cheeky tykes have been doing some growing up of late.
To sum up, Humbug won't be heard after one or two listens alone. Its quite a deposit from Arctic Monkeys and one to appreciate in value.
The nay sayers, doubters and knockers have got it very wrong. Back in the (almost justified) hyped hysteria of 2006, Gordon Brown let it be known he was a fan, "they really wake you up in the morning." But he couldn't name a tune. Dance little liar.
Long after Gordon Brown has vanished from the column inches, Arctic Monkeys will still be waking people up to what is possible with passion and a dedication to a cause. They are special. And the sky is the limit for Alex Turner.
3 September 2009