When Arctic Monkeys announced the first single on their new album, a US online mag ran the story to which someone in the comments below said “Great, I’ll tell my dad”. It perfectly sums up the concerns that have become increasingly evident over their last couple of albums; that their cheeky chappy quirky Englishness was getting quickly replaced by a kind of serious, Americanized "real-rock".
This, their fifth album, seems to be an attempt to meld the two sounds together with a dash of R&B hurled in for good measure. The NME have given this album 10 out of 10. I’m generally pretty scathing about full marks reviews, there is rarely a perfect record and often such reviews are written by a reviewer with an agenda. There is absolutely no doubt that opener ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ is superb, a slow building masterpiece with a crackling atmosphere and a tremendous sense of tension. But ‘R U Mine’ is standard Monkeys rawk, with one of their raucous riffs backed by tumbling drumming but lacking in a really big hook.
As I mentioned in last week's review of so-so single ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’, there are two things dominating this new sound, a scrubbed R&B polish and Matt Helder's high pitched backing vocals. Both things attempt to derail ‘One For The Road’ which has a nice atmosphere (and an Alex Turner rap!) but is horribly slick, the high pitched vocals grate and the track is virtually interchangeable with the next track ‘Arabella’ which uses the same late-night spectral sounds and is different only in that it launches into a dreadful sub Led Zeppelin chorus, Turner’s voice so treated it barely sounds like himself. After three attempts to "break America" the idea is starting to wear very thin indeed. ‘I Want It All’ has a nice chunky riff and a glammy stomp but it would sound a lot better if it had been recorded in their practice room.
The biggest dissapointment is that Alex Turner seems content not only with relatively prosaic lyrics but his voice is often mixed strangely back in the mix, the ballad ‘No 1 Party Anthem’ should be one of their beer drenched confessionals in the manner of ‘Cornerstone’ but it's hollowed out and you kind of drift off and ignore it after awhile. And with that the CD player gives up the ghost and maybe I should too. The album will probably appease fans to a degree and could help the band break that all important American market but they could do well to remember what made them successful in the first place; no amount of hi-gloss production can replace memorable lyrics and insidious tunesmithery.