Album Review: Arctic Monkeys’s “AM”

Pete Koehler

“AM” pulls off quite the trick in that it oozes with sleaze and earnestness at the same time. “Do I Wanna Know?” deals with eerily similar subject matter to the new Plain White T’s single, “Should’ve Gone To Bed,” in that both deal with the misguided urge to call an ex after putting down a couple drinks. While the latter is a throwaway reach for a Top 40 hit, “Do I Wanna Know?” is a perfect example of what makes “AM” a masterfully subtle record. It starts with the boozy guitar strut that is almost as greasy as frontman Alex Turner’s new haircut before diving into a vulnerable harmony at the chorus. This is a record that deals with the consequences after the party, when the buzz fades away and you’re left to deal with your actions and your shortcomings. Except unlike others, like The Weeknd, who’ve made a career exploiting the same subject matter, the Monkeys don’t necessarily need a bleak soundscape to get the point across.

Two of the albums’ biggest standouts, “R U Mine?” and “Arabella,” allow the band to boast a trunk-rattling rhythm section and searing guitar licks. The latter is easily the closest to sounding like Black Sabbath that the Sheffield quartet has ever been. As many reviews have commented, there’s also some hip-hop and R&B influences that make their way in, most jarringly so in “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” While the backing track utilizes exclusively live instruments, it forms a bouncing repetitive beat that recalls old school hip-hop. The vocals bounce right along to the beat until the off-kilter chorus momentarily stops things in its tracks. It’s new sonic territory for the band, but undoubtedly a success as it’s an impossible song to get out of your head.

A review of “AM” would be remiss not to include a profile of the slower cuts on the record as well that are less immediate but, for the most part, just as decadent. “No. 1 Party Anthem” plays to The Monkeys’ Beatles influences, with expansive vocals that show that Turner alone can carry a tune – not that there ever really was a doubt. “Mad Sounds” slows things down to a whisper but is as pure of a pop high as you’ll find, displaying the band’s ability to craft a tune on the extremely delicate end of the spectrum.

Only a few songs fail to stick, such as mid-tempo tracks “One For The Road” and “Knee Socks,” though both do benefit from Josh Homme’s haunting vocals. “Snap Out Of It” sounds like it could be a Noel Gallagher b-side, but there

are certainly worse things than that.

On the whole, “AM” is another one in the win column for the Arctic Monkeys. “AM” is the logical child of “Humbug” and “Suck It and See,” with a potent combination of the late-night, desert-influenced heaviness of the former, and the balanced pop subtleties of the latter. “AM” isn’t a claim to the throne, but rather an affirmation that they’re worthy festival headliners and won’t be vacating that post anytime soon.

Pete’s prognosis: 4 stars out of 5

Contact Pete Koehler at [email protected]