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Arctic Monkeys - AM Album Cover

Arctic Monkeys - AM

Reviewed by
8.0
Arctic Monkeys - AM
Record Label: Domino
Release Date: September 10, 2013
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
They’re a band that needs no introduction in their native UK, but the Arctic Monkeys have never inspired more than a modest following stateside. In 2006 they barreled onto the stagnant UK rock scene, scoring the fastest selling debut in British chart history with Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. The record was the climax of a much-hyped build-up over the previous year that largely revolved around DIY internet promotion. Although their subsequent three albums have alienated some fans with vastly different songwriting and production choices, they have continued to be a superstar-level group in the UK.

With AM, however, many have remarked that it somewhat looks like the band is “going American.” The album was recorded almost entirely in southern California and features guest work by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme (who produced a lot of the band’s 2008 LP Humbug. More indicative of the band’s new direction though have been the stream of quotes from frontman Alex Turner about AM.

Turner has repeatedly said in interviews that this record is heavily influenced by West Coast hip-hop and old-school R&B. AM “sounds less like four lads playing in a room,” he remarked in an interview with NME this summer. He’s also offered multiple nods to gods of classic rock such as Black Sabbath as additional influences. All of this makes it sound like AM might be in danger of becoming a wandering mess that tries too many things all at once to largely mixed results, but what Turner chose not to mention in interviews is that this is by far the Monkeys’ tightest and most focused record since their debut.

Sleek and self-assured, Turner gives what is probably the best vocal performance of his career on AM, and he’s rewarded by a production job that makes his vocals stand out much more than they have in the past. He dominates the center of the mix, playing with a softer timbre on ballads like ”Mad Sounds,” but also delivering lines in his trademark rapid-fire style on the single “R U Mine.” His lyrics touch upon his usual themes of youthful nightlife, modern ennui and romantic missed chances, but as with the last few Monkeys albums he displays maturity and a level of insight that have grown tremendously since the snottier nature of the debut.

While this album is missing some of Turner and Jamie Cook’s signature jittery guitar work, the guitars instead deliver explosive albeit simplistic riffs that sound gigantic in the very bass-heavy mix. Yes “Arabella” basically lifts a guitar part straight from “War Pigs,” but the first thing that popped in my mind after the faux-hip-hop beat gave way to the thunderous riff wasn’t Sabbath, it was that maybe I’d accidentally stumbled into a Girl Talk album. The band blends these elements so seamlessly that as preposterous as it might seem on first listen, it’s hard to really blame the band for shamelessly pulling from Sabbath when they pull it off in the least likely way possible.

The hip-hop influences naturally benefit the rhythm section the most. Bassist Nick O’Malley anchors the band, and true to Turner’s word, there are multiple tracks that sound “a bit like a hip-hop beat that'd be boss in your car.” Overall the production is very reminiscent of what Danger Mouse did with The Black Keys’ Brothers a few years ago. Similar to the Monkeys, that record is built around meaty classic-rock-style riffs, but also wallops a big punch in the lower registers.

The record opens with processed stomps and clamps that give “Do I Wanna Know?” a distinctly glam rock feel before the massive hook ever hits. O’Malley and drummer Matt Helders also provide falsetto backing vocals on this track and throughout AM that sound great. Late-album highlight “Fireside” is a restless and nocturnal number, driven forward by rumbling drums and accentuated by organ flairs as Turner paints a vivid picture of a “what if?” situation with a former lover. “I can't explain but I want to try / There's this image of you and I / And it goes dancing by in the morning and in the night time,” he sings in the song’s opening verse.

AM is a breath of fresh air for a band that, while far from stagnant the last few years, previously seemed to be moving towards re-treading a garage rock sound we’ve heard time and time again. While 2011’s Suck It and See was a passable “return to basics” type of record, AM is a wholly new direction for the band that has a lot more life in it. We’re obviously not going to get a record like their first one again, so it’s heartening to see the Arctic Monkeys begin to carve out a totally new sound for themselves that isn’t just a hollow hold-over from their early days. AM is a tight and focused record that sounds huge and retains Turner’s personality and charm in a way previous releases haven’t always done. It’s a new direction, but anyone who loves the Arctic Monkeys should be able to see they’re exactly where they need to be right now.

8/10
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 22
10:37 PM on 09/10/13
#2
circasurviver
Sammy Davis Jesus
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Never was a huge fan of this band, but this AOTY contender for me
01:10 AM on 09/11/13
#3
Shatter_Glass
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One of the best guitar/lyric/rhythm bands around. If you dig Black Keys you'll love Arctic's newer stuff. AM is truly lightning in a bottle.

I believe Humbug was released in 09' Chris, but definitely recorded in 08'.
01:14 AM on 09/11/13
#4
Memphis
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Forgive me for bitching about it again, but the score is a bit too low when almost every other album reviewed here gets 85% or higher.

Nevertheless, it's an interesting view from the "other" side of the ocean and a good contrast to the NME review, which is exaggerated to the point it's ridiculous. If you average these two, that's where I am. I've always been a moderate fan of Arctic Monkeys. I like the first two albums, Humbug grew on me a lot over the time (now I consider it to be their best, alongside their debut), Suck It And See was sort of a step back, but AM is great immediately from the start. One of the AOTYs for sure, and I think the Monkeys really outdid themselves this time, even though AM is far from being the best album of the decade. (That title still belongs to The Suburbs )

edit: Also, the artwork is amazing.
01:38 AM on 09/11/13
#5
hectorial85
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Huge Monkeys fan. Dig this album. Love their progression.
02:00 AM on 09/11/13
#6
deanster321
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Great review. 100% nailed it. Good to see someone else here making the connection between Arabella's chorus and War Pigs too, hah.
03:09 AM on 09/11/13
#7
paulramon93
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This album destroys almost every album I've heard this year!
03:36 AM on 09/11/13
#8
JSNFRMN
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10/10 for me. Cannot wait to see them live for the first time next month, been a long time coming. "When you walked around your house wearing my sky blue Lacoste and your... knee socks".
05:47 AM on 09/11/13
#9
phaynes1
AP.NET ILLUMINATI
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Great album.

I like the review a lot. I think some of the points you mentioned as being new have been around for a while (the sabbath influence; americanizing of their sound) but all in all, you pretty much nailed exactly how I feel with this.
05:55 AM on 09/11/13
Siren
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First line is very true. I live in the U.S. and have never heard of them, walked into a small record store in the UK and there were literally over a hundred copies.
07:16 AM on 09/11/13
Chemical Love
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I really like this album, probably my favorite of theirs.
07:48 AM on 09/11/13
Chris Collum
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Forgive me for bitching about it again, but the score is a bit too low when almost every other album reviewed here gets 85% or higher.
You have to remember that the writers here all have vastly different opinions about music, so there's never gonna be a critical consensus so to speak on this site. Personally I am very tough with scores and try not to just hand out 9s for every record I like.
08:44 AM on 09/11/13
paulramon93
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You have to remember that the writers here all have vastly different opinions about music, so there's never gonna be a critical consensus so to speak on this site. Personally I am very tough with scores and try not to just hand out 9s for every record I like.
That's why you're one of my favorite reviewers along with Craig Manning.
Keep up the good work man!
10:22 AM on 09/11/13
harley7733
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This and MVOTC are my tops for AOTY. If you cant enjoy this record, then we cant be friends.
01:01 PM on 09/11/13
Kapa73
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Need to give this a listen. I was a big fan of their 1st record and suck it and see.

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