Tuesday 24 September 2013

Arctic Monkeys Learn From Dr. Dre

On every record so far Arctic Monkeys changed their musical direction. From the fresh and boyish indie rock on Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, where singer Alex Turner was telling about teenage life in Sheffield, to the heavy rock in Humbug. The band keeps on evolving and doesn't let itself get distracted by short lived trends or compromises. Instead they are slowly building up to a point where I expect them to drop a master piece. Maybe their fifth album is their magnus opus?

Arctic Monkeys - AM (Ronald Says 9 out of 10)

Only eight years ago the boys broke through from out of nowhere. In those years they have been offering us an insight in the lives of maturing teenagers who became rock stars. Turner's lyrics are short stories and poems that illustrate this process. However their music is also maturing. They've moved from catchy guitar songs to heavy rocks songs with the help of Josh Homme. On Humbug they were unfairly criticized for this. On Suck It And See they showed more variation, a richer production and an evolved sound. On AM they are adding another dimension: groove.

Not that they were ever lacking any groove before, on the contrary. But it is where the new songs differ from the earlier songs. Live on stage you can see the transition as well. Turner has slowly raised his head, from staring at his shoes to carefully peeking through his hair, to the full on confident and modern James Dean rock star he is today. The band have grown some balls and are now at the point where they are feeling totally comfortable. According to themselves the new record is a mix between Dr. Dre and Black Sabbath.

And that description is pretty accurate. I admit I was raising my eyebrows as well when I heard where they got their inspiration from. The fear of Turner starting an awkward rap fortunately turns out to be ill-founded. Instead he's singing with more soul than ever. In the end they learned from Dr. Dre's main asset: beats. It's immediately clear from songs 'One For The Road' and current single 'Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High' what that means.

The songs have irresistible grooves and hooks that are more common in hip hop. They work very well in those mid-tempo tracks and the more you listen to them the more you get addicted to that groovy feel. It shows that not only Turner is the master-mind in the band. Drummer Matt Helders and bassist Nick O'Malley's did a great job translating the computer drum beats into organic laid back grooves. Guitarist Jamie Cook is adding the Black Sabbath part with heavy hard rock riffs. It turns the songs into a spicy mixture that fits the band well.

Let's not forget a few beautiful ballads that always come with every Arctic Monkeys album. 'No. 1 Party Anthem' is among the best ones they wrote so far. Or what about the gorgeous backing vocals in 'Arabella'? Or the soulful 'Snap Out Of It'? Turner's lyrics are of absolute beauty again; creative, poetic with plenty of tongue in cheek. But also maturing like everything else:
She's a silver lining lone ranger
riding through an open space
In my mind when she's not right there beside me
And so the four piece once again pleasantly surprise us with a new direction and a few twists. I'm starting to think that in the end they may not write that single masterpiece. It may just well be that in a few years we look back and have to conclude that it's not just one of their albums, but it's all of them. Their whole catalogue is turning into a classic series in itself and they are growing into the most important rock band of the past decade. And maybe even more.

Listen to AM on Spotify.

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