Highlights: She’s Thunderstorms, Black Treacle, The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala, Reckless Serenade, Piledriver Waltz, Suck It And See
I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t see this coming at all. After three critically lauded albums of unspecified, obscure brilliance (that managed to escape me every time I played them), Arctic Monkeys release a truly excellent album full of maturity and, most importantly, good tunes. Who could have thought Alex Turner had it in him? Who could have thought that the Arctic Monkeys overhyped enterprise was not just about a bunch of smart riffs thrown together?
I will start this review by saying that I absolutely adore Turner’s vocal tone on most of these songs. It’s not that thick, cocky thing of the past. The mellower approach of Suck It And See makes him sound soulful, resonant. I’m talking about stuff like “Black Treacle” or “The Hellcat…”. But Turner’s singing wouldn’t have made that big a difference was he not on some serious songwriting roll here. You can hear distinct echoes of Bowie circa early 70’s or the psychedelic pop of the 60’s. Speaking of the latter, you would also have to consider the sheer naked naivety of the album’s lyrics (“Love Is A Laserquest”, anyone?)… But I’m willing to disregard that. For the melodic splendor of most of these songs is simply dizzying. And it all came out of nowhere. Where before on an Arctic Monkeys record could you hear anything as classic, tuneful and musically deep as “Piledriver Waltz”, whose chorus and whose dark overtones are pure irresistible genius. There are traces of their hard-rocking past, too, like on the hilarious “Brick By Brick” and “Library Pictures”. But they are few and largely effective.
There’s no unnecessary heaviness of Humbug or the exciting, but remarkably unsubstantial swagger of the first two albums – but this time you’ve got songs. And doesn’t that count for something? Here’s a band willing to grow and mature, not the commonest of things these days. So maybe they are great, after all? Maybe NME was right all along? Looks likely, for once.