The zeitgeist. Its a transient thing in pop, if you fleetingly capture it for a few months, you’re always striving to regain it. Or you decide to go off on a tangent that will bemuse your listeners but might keep you more fulfilled creatively, and just maybe just maybe you might still sell records. Look at Radiohead.
Back in the midst of 2005 teenage tykes the Arctic Monkeys briefly held the zeitgeist in their grasp. Their early demos were essential listening, gate crashing the winding down storm surrounding The Libertines who as swiftly as they ascended were soon to be no more, and the urgent new wave energy of early 2000s hopefuls the Strokes. The Arctic Monkeys defined a very northern sound, a wry social commentary that whilst it tipped its hat to Pulp, The Smiths and the Jam. At the time Alex Turner’s dark lyrics were poured over, fired out like verbal volleys, like the almost indescribable meeting point between the melodic chirpiness of George Fornby and the poetic eye of John Cooper Clark. They had tunes sure, we know about ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor’ but elsewhere ‘A Certain Romance’, ‘Fake Tales of Sanfrancisco’ and ‘When the Sun Goes Down(formerly known as Scummy Man)’bristled with spite, wit and a keen eye for tales of Sheffield nightclubs, breakups and Mardy Bums: the characters that punctated his working class youth. For a while there they were as influential as Oasis were in the 90s upon a certain audience, possessing that rare ability to cut though the media machine and connect with youths on a direct, visceral level. An ability at that point held by hip hop artists and very pale Brummy guy called Mike Skinner. Predictably a raft of lesser bands (Bromheads Jacket, Milburn et al)followed in their wake, each one in awe of the shadow of t’monkeys. With only The Long Blondes able to keep pace, at first….
Then the hungry label wolves fought over their signature like a pack of ravenous hounds. The monkeys picked Domino a wise move given their reputation as a band driven by their grassroots fan base of rabid fans. Particularly online, distributing demos and utilising a new fangled social media like myspace.It had certain echoes of the Smiths alignment with Rough Trade back in the 80s.Both labels retained a credibility that could give them artistic freedom but still had the financial clout(in Domino’s case given to them by major label ownership) that could take them places.It did, 2006’s debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not raked in massive sales, and multiple awards flowed. This was quickly followed up by transitory second album ‘Favourite Worst Knightmare,’ a set of songs that still shifted units but divided opinion, being the uneasy meeting point between their old work and a signal towards their future direction with first single the percussive heavy ‘Brainstorm.’
Fasfoward to 20011 and the The Arctic Monkeys fourth album the tentatively titled ‘Suck it and See'(a phrase designed for the stream before you buy it age). That see’s the band washed off colour, from its beige looking cover art, to the pale retreads of ground that are contained on its twelve new tracks. It’s a lession for all bands the more time you have in a studio often the more over considered and bland your work can become. No longer instant, raw and visceral now mundane, quite bland and utterly reflective of themselves. Like looking in the mirror at your flabby, older self and wondering ‘where did it all go wrong?’
Thus ‘Suck it and See’sounds like a nadir, sure Alex may now croon more like Scott Walker or his fellow Sheffieldian Richard Hawley and the melodies of songs like(‘She’s Thunder Storms’ and ‘Suck It and See’) may float with the ghosts of the Beatles’ White Album. But the record fails to hit the mark at every juncture. Turner and Co probably mistake this shift from club night toward lounge room as progress but it all boils down to a truely anadyne version of what they once were. One can almost sniff an attempt to regain commercial ground. Except these are middle of the road chuggers, a set of mostly forgettable homage’s to the 60s, and not even a patch on the Spector-ish work Turner put out under the banner of The Last Shadow Puppets duo.
Maybe its the distance this album was recorded in the US just like their last release the Josh Homme produced desert psychedelia of their patchy last album Humbug that’s over indulgance and claustrophobia clung onto Monkeys fans for dear life. But unlike that release a stab at experimentation that at least it attempted to surprise the listener shifting away from what ‘people expected’ from the new Arctic Monkeys. ‘Suck it and See’ resembles a band struggling with writer’s block, and Alex Turner a young man weighed down by the pressure of being a so called ‘voice of a generation.’ A cruel tag daubed upon him by the likes of the NME(they have form remember their misplaced hype of acts such as Terris?The Datsuns? The Vaccines?Anyone?)and one he recently rejected in an Observer interview. One can imagine him creatively struggling with a cartoon ton weight on his shoulders. Could be the point where the Arctic Monkeys have finally lost touch with the last vestigates what made them so vital in the first place?
Even the so called ‘highlights’ are a little underwhelming. Opener ‘She’s Thunderstorms’ has been praised for its doe eye’d melody and Matt Helders’scatter gun drum pattern, but when a drum beat is the only thing to reccomend a track perhaps one should cite the trite lyrics and stereotypical vocals for it’s inadequacy. While the rock riffs of ‘Brick by Brick’ tries to swagger like mid-period Who, sure its rhythm ripples with energy, but it lacks the dynamic melody, intensity or lyrical bite, rendering it average and quite forgettable. Despite the default setting of most of the seven or eigtht out of ten album reviews, the same could be said for much of this set.
Recent single ‘Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved You Chair’ could be the silliest AMs song title yet, Alex’s moody vocal and clichéd meditations upon ‘chav’ culture that sound like scenes frome Shameless. (‘wear a shell suit on bonfire night’). Are now viewed from the dissconnected mocking distance of a sage rockingchair and the height of self parody, it fails to interest beyond its first minute. This might be a more, gulp, ‘mature’ album but it sadly lacks the sheer addictiveness and social commentary of their first two records that so marked them out as an essential listen. Thus you’re left with a series of weary ambiguously metaphors of pensive life in the bubble, falling in love and growing older.
These introspective efforts lurch into love struck couplets that casts ones mind back to Lennon/McCartney’s most syrupy solo efforts.”I poured my aching heart into a pop songs’ Turner sings earnestly on the title track before asserting rather sickmakingly ‘I’m a fool for you’ whilst the verses disappear into the lilting after thought of the chorus. The Hellcat Spangled Shalala is ironically one of the better moments here, its rushing lalala chorus’ are giddily reminiscent of Monaco’s ‘What do you want from me?’ but again riddled with nonsense rhyme on a par with ‘I Am The Walrus.’ ‘Library Pictures’ tries to elicit the memories of Humbug, its serrating psych-guitars and quickfire rhythms are a upbeat diversion, but essentially filler.
The mildly intriguing reverb heavy ‘Piledriver Waltz’ that previously appeared on the Submarine soundtrack bobs along on a wave of strumming inconsequential and wistfulness is the lesser cousin of Humbug’s superior ‘Cornerstone.’ ‘Love Is A Laserquest’ returns once again to the growing old theme Turner sings ‘“When I’m pipe and slippers and rocking chair, singing dreadful songs about something” the couplets irony seemingly lost on him as he delivers a more obvious homage to The Beatles. Closer ‘That’s where you’re wrong’ is the most enjoyable slice of jangle pop here, its uncluttered production and Nick O’Malley’s Bryds-ian four string riffs are pleasant , but hamstrung by yet more worn out rock roll cliché. It fails to get out of second gear, The La‘s ‘There She Goes’ it ain’t.
What were we expecting from the Arctic Monkeys? Well perhaps a long player with a bit more to intrigue beyond the first spin. A fourth album that doesn’t bother the Monkeys motto offered at the start of their debut video ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’. Turner and co seem bereft of really new ideas and its little wonder when they have moved away from everything they know, the town they grew up in to record for months in the cosy confines of the US with big name producers, that Suck it and see sounds so anaemic, so over thought, and so utterly lacking in killer tunes . It’s a shame then to report that the Arctic Monkeys new album should probably be retitled under its anagram ‘And See, It Suck.’