In 2006, when Arctic Monkeys released their debut album, Whatever People Think I Am, That’s What I’m Not, it was fairly easy to dismiss them as yet another garage rock revival band likely to sputter out after a few albums. Granted, that debut was full of jittery, punk-tinged indie rock that carried plenty of charm and hooks, but its sound was never built for longevity. However, with each successive release it became evident that the Arctic Monkeys were not built like their contemporaries. A penchant for musical experimentation, constant development in songwriting and legendary live shows proved that the Monkeys were an entirely different beast altogether. Now, with their fifth full-length, the succinctly titled AM, the band reinforce their position as a rare breed of exciting (and unpredictable) contemporary rock bands.
In spite of a fairly conventional first outing, it’s since become better to expect the unexpected from an Arctic Monkeys album, and AM has its share of welcome surprises. While there are certainly elements throughout AM that recall shades of their past works, like the raucous garage riffing of “R U Mine?” or Sabbath-esque stomp of “Arabella,” it’s the development of new sounds that drive the album. Electronic drum patterns bookend the album on both “Do I Wanna Know?” and “I Wanna Be Yours,” which ultimately gives the band a decidedly more lush sound than what has been characteristic of the band’s past works. And throughout AM, there’s a constant groove — a compulsory, head-bobbing, dancefloor-ready groove.
Although much of AM is devoted to a more sensual sound, the album also maintains a constant, underlying current of darkness. The haunting “One For The Road” is a falsetto-laced journey that slinks seductively along, while simultaneously providing a stark lyrical portrait of a romance gone bad. Similarly, the Josh Homme-assisted “Knee Socks” toes a very thin line between gut-bucket-soul-inspired musical decadence and the plaintive, insecure musings of Turner. The juxtaposition works extremely well, thanks to the band’s continued musical growth and Alex Turner’s harrowing lyrics. Even AM‘s slowest cut, “No. 1 Party Anthem” — a laid-back slice of classic rock — deals with feelings of inadequacy: “Drunken monologues, confused because/ It’s not like I’m falling in love/ I just want you to do me no good/And you look like you could.”
Hindsight is always 20/20, or so they say, but looking back on Arctic Monkeys’ first few albums, it’s perplexing to pinpoint just exactly how they arrived at AM. In a sense, there’s a natural progression to be found from album to album, but AM leaps over the baby steps of the past to arrive at a sound that’s not entirely unfamiliar, yet feels fresh. Somewhere along the way, the band introduced a sexy, dance-friendly sensibility to go along with their more traditional sound, and when combined with the shadowy musings of Turner, AM sounds like the standout album the band has always had in them, simmering since the very beginning.