Arctic Monkeys get cryptic

Arctic Monkeys - Humbug
Not to undersell Arctic Monkeys‘ melodic talents, or their ability to hammer out catchy post-punk riffage, but the group’s greatest asset has always been frontman Alex Turner’s quirky, vibrant lyrics. On the band’s two previous full-lengths, 2006′s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and 2007′s Favourite Worst Nightmare, his lyrics were rich in detail and rife with slang, brilliantly portraying the minutia of British daily life in a thick Yorkshire accent.

It’s a little disappointing that for Humbug, the band’s third album, Turner opted to shift his lyrics into more cryptic terrain. The descriptions of knackered Converse and fascist club bouncers are gone, replaced by oblique metaphors like “And you’re sinking like a stone / But you know what it’s like to hold the jeweller’s hands / That procession of pioneers all drown” (from “The Jeweller’s Hands”). Turner still has a way with words, but lyrics such as this lack the personality and instant gratification of his previous work.

Arctic Monkeys’ sound has changed too. The album was recorded with Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) at a studio in Joshua Tree, California, so it’s fitting that this is the band’s desert rock record. The album opens with “My Propellor,” which shifts between grungy powerchords and haunting, Wild West-inspired riffs. The vocal harmonies on tracks like “Dangerous Animals” and “Secret Door” are swathed in reverb, evoking the lonely, desolate plains of the Mojave Desert. It may lack the charming Britishness of the Arctic Monkeys’ past work, but Humbug is by far their most sonically diverse offering yet, with layers and effects aplenty.

While much of the album finds the band delving into moody hard rock and twangy spaghetti western atmospherics, the collection’s clear standout is its most straightforward offering. “Cornerstone” is a mid-tempo acoustic strummer that could almost pass for the Kinks, its detailed imagery making it the closest the album comes to recreating Turner’s previous poetic triumphs. “I thought I saw you in The Rusty Hook / Huddled up in a wicker chair” he sings, recounting a previous relationship in heart-wrenching detail.

Although it is not as iconic as the band’s previous work, the album proves that Arctic Monkeys have the depth and range to outlast the onslaught of hype that greeted their arrival onto the music scene. As a stylistic experiment that’s clearly intended to test the band’s limitations, Humbug is a consistently enjoyable record that proves that the four lads from Sheffield will long outlast the 15 minutes allotted to many of their Britpop peers.
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One Comment

  1. Posted June 19, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Hello I just came across your site and very much eninyjog it.The whole Arctic Monkeys thing passed me by for reasons I cannot wholly explain although I suspect it is just called getting old’.All the best,Ian TBx

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Arctic Monkeys @ Malkin Bowl, 9/20/09 on September 21, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    [...] their first album and nothing else. Not to suggest that Humbug, the group’s latest, is bad—it isn’t. But it and its predecessor, 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare, lack the punkish fury and [...]

  2. By Unexpected charisma from Alex Turner on November 13, 2009 at 11:27 am

    [...] from Alex Turner November 13, 2009 Arctic Monkeys‘ third album, the Josh Homme-produced Humbug, is a solid-but-unspectacular collection of desert rock that scales back the group’s usual [...]

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