From young, Sheffield lads to leather-jacket wearing rock ‘n’ rollers and stylish, suit-clad space explorers – it’s been a wild ride following the career of Arctic Monkeys.
There’s only one way to explore the last 12 years of AM and that’s by taking a deep dive into their discography. Here’s a look at the evolution of the Arctic Monkeys told through our favourite tracks from each of their albums.
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)
Who would’ve thought, 12 years ago, that four young lads from Sheffield would be soundtracking our days? Not us, that’s for sure? But on their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not they sure laid the foundations for it.
Unsurprisingly, their introduction to the world is by far their most unpolished work, but it still has all the elements that make them the arena-filling band we know today. Every note is played with an urgency that says it’s the most important moment in history, every song screaming for your attention. While they might’ve been singing about teenage romance and drunken nights out, it’s Turner’s lyrical expertise – witty tales spun into poetry – that shines through.
Highlight: We can’t go past the album’s anchor, I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, with its thrashing melody and bluntly cryptic lyrics. Twelve years later and it’s still a hallmark of their discography.
Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)
After the success of their debut, Arctic Monkeys had big expectations to live up to. And on their sophomore effort, released just a year later, they, for the most part, stuck to a pretty similar formula. The unrelenting speedy riffs were still there, as were the tongue-in-cheek poetics of the lyrics, but there was a wiseness creeping in. They were still as charismatic and cheeky as before, but when they eased off the pedal – like on slow-burner Only Ones Who Know or closer 505– that they showed just what they could be.
Highlight: Managing to simultaneously capture, and balance, cheeriness and melancholy, Fluorescent Adolescent remains one of Artic Monkeys’ most popular tunes. From the dry-wit of Turner’s lyrics to that catchy-as-heck guitar melody, this tune is as well-suited to summer car rides as it is for quoting on MSN Messenger.
Easily the most underrated and underappreciated albums in Arctic Monkeys’ discography, Humbug was the first real sonic shift AM put forward. Gone was the frenzy and mayhem of their first two records – when they went into the American desert with Queens of the Stone Ages’ Josh Homme, what emerged was something more measured. Humbug showcased a restrained, more sombre, and darker Arctic Monkeys than fans were used to. Gone were the instantly catchy choruses, instead Turner’s tongue-twisters took on a more Nick Cave-esque appeal, allowing the album to breath and grow instead of hitting you immediately.
Highlight: While Humbug might be missing those distinctly catchy AM choruses, lead single Crying Lightning is bound to get stuck in your head. From its slinky guitar melody to its repetitive drum pattern, it cuts the usual tempo in half but still holds the same lyrical beauty. Controversial but crucial in the band’s evolution.
Suck It and See (2011)
They went to the desert and had their mature moment, and thanks to that adventure Arctic Monkeys were able to make Suck It and See. Rock ‘n’ roll attitude was their vibe, hair gel and leather their uniform, but despite the look, album number four was surprisingly sweeter than its predecessors, with love letters like Reckless Serenade and Piledriver Waltz leading the album’s thematic direction. The grit is still present in tracks like Brick by Brick and Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair, but there is a distinct polish – and overt confidence – here.
Highlight: This album is full of highlights, but we’re giving this one to Arctic Monkeys’ big loved up moment. Suck It and See – only Alex Turner could write an out-and-out love song that opens with a phrase like “Your love is like a studded leather headlock.” They’d be hard pressed to ever write something this romantic again.
This album is one sexy, slinky groove after the other. While their look still said rock ‘n’ roll cool boys, AM was drenched in soul, hip hop and R&B groove. It’s moodier and more sombre than anything we’d heard previously, using simple songwriting to dramatic effect. This is the record that truly launched Arctic Monkeys into the international stratosphere.
Highlight: The album’s opener Do I Wanna Know? is probably the band’s most popular song for a reason. From the boom-clap percussion to that driving lead guitar hook, they created on of their most instantly recognisable melodies. It slowly slinks throughout the verses, and unlike the usual AM style, the chorus continues to burn. It’s restrained and entrancing, not relying on full throttle rock to grab your attention.
Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino (2018)
Now we get to this year’s record – one five long years in the making – Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino. Controversial might be too light a word to use here. But whether you love it or hate it (we LOVE it), this is one of the most important records Arctic Monkeys have ever made. Gone are the instantly catchy guitar riffs, instead TBH&C oozes with a hazy loungebar calmness, relying more on atmosphere than hooks. It still features the most recognisable parts of the AM sound – the intelligent lyricism and vocal style distinctly Alex Turner – only here, everything feels different. This is an album only an established band can make; a record that deserves to be spun the classic way – from start to finish. It’s intelligent, but also risky. It might not slot as seamlessly into their catalogue as each of their previous albums have, but this is definitely an album you can return to to uncover new elements and moments hidden just below the surface. This is the Arctic Monkeys’ show piece – here they shed the rock’n’roll stereotype, the leather jackets and upbeat indie-rock melodies that reference a million other bands of the past. Maybe this is the sound they were always destined for – a little bit showy, incredibly catchy, but most of all completely unexpected.
Highlight: Batphone highlights the slinky, sexy mood present throughout the album, except it does so without all the grandeur TBH&C tries so hard to hold on to. This is the album’s nightcap. It still warbles along, but here everything seems to work. Taking some of the more left-of-centre ideas from the rest of the album, Batphone combines everything in a way that feels more comfortable and more ear-catching.
Arctic Monkeys will take over Spark Arena, Auckland on Wednesday March 6, 2019. Tickets are on sale now via Ticketmaster.co.nz.