A confession: on first listen I wasn’t convinced AM was particularly brilliant. Of course it sounded great; there is, after all, a preposterous amount of talent squirrelled away in the lad’s pockets. It just didn’t immediately grab in the same way as their previous records.
But let me tell you one thing. Give it time. Don’t let yourself be swayed by shakey live footage of new material, or the initially grating High Green-meets-West-Coast flavour of Turner’s voice. This is a truly great record. It’s a game-changer for the band, not in the same way as Humbug, but in a way that means it wouldn’t now be ridiculous to put them on the same pedestal as the all time greats of music. You see, only genuine artists, proper craftsmen of music, will put it all on the line in order to adapt and develop, and only genuinely genius artists will do that and still deliver great things. It reminds me of something one of the boys said a few years ago: they don’t want to be the biggest band in the world, they want to be the best. Well, they’re on the way.
With five records on the wall they’ve now created their own reference points; they’re not springing from anyone else’s board, so to speak, and AM initials the band in the sense that every tune is 100% Arctic Monkeys. You’ll already be familiar with ‘Do I Wanna Know’. Nothing’s changed, it’s still as good as the first time you heard it. ‘R U Mine’ could well be a remastered version – nobody seems entirely sure – but there’s certainly fresher elements to the song in its capacity as an album track. The backup falsetto vox from O’Malley and Helders penetrate more clearly, and the production falls in line with other tracks too conveniently – it actually sounds fuller here – although it is possible the listener tunes in to those new Monkeys frequencies after ‘Do I Wanna Know’ opens the album.
We already knew of the magic in that opening duo, however, and it’s from here that the next chapter properly starts. ‘One For The Road’ matches ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ in the R&B stakes, ‘Arabella’ nicks a few Sabbath riffs here and there, ‘Mad Sounds’ would achieve the impossible and actually improve Lou Reed’s Transformer, and ‘Snap Out Of It’ grooves to an irresistible rhythm. Each track is punctuated with impressive falsetto backing vocals and, of course, a multitude of original Turner soundbites. Take ‘No.1 Party Anthem’, for example, whose protagonist is all “leather jacket collar popped like Cantona”, or ‘Arabella’ with talk of “interstellar gator skin boots”. And, although album closer ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ is the first time a Monkeys record has featured lyrics not written by the frontman, when you’re ripping lines from Salford poet John Cooper Clarke you’re bound to be hitting treble-20s.
AM is absolutely a studio record, and may well prove difficult to replicate live, but it’s the first time since WPSIATWIN that it’s felt completely collaborative, as if the songwriting process was a burden carried by all four of them. You’ve got Turner’s lyrics drifting seamlessly around the rhythm section of O’Malley and Cook, complimented perfectly by Helder’s ever-exuberant drumming. From the perfect hip-hop of ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ to the Bonham-esque display on ‘R U Mine’, Helder’s ability to carry a record is magnified ten-fold; there’s no forcing of the puzzle-pieces here.
Saving the best ’til second last is ‘Knee Socks’, a horny, prowling panther of a track, featuring the second appearance from QOTSA frontman Josh Homme and more of those filthy Turner lyrics. Homme’s voice diffuses into the background but he’s a very real presence, lingering, lecherous, admiring the perfect corruption of a band many thought the big man was overly involved with. Then there’s the breakdown, a proper “girlfriend music” section that swells with lyrics so obviously good you can’t believe nobody else has ever written them: “like the beginning of Mean Streets you could Be My Baby”.
So there it is. As with any successful band there’s always people queuing around the block to disparage and dispel, and after being blessed with four incredible records it’s easy to set yourself up for a fall. Don’t fret. This could well be Arctic Monkeys’ biggest achievement yet. Until the next record that is.