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The Top Ten Arctic Monkeys Songs

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Wednesday, Oct 9, 2013

6 - 1

 
6) “Love Is a Laserquest”
(Suck It and See, 2011)


For a band that easily could’ve flamed out after catapulting to stardom (especially under the scrutinizing gaze of the British press), it’s remarkable how well Arctic Monkeys have aged. Exhibit A: 2011’s Suck It and See. Their most balanced and mature collection, Suck It and See is also the record that found Turner baring his heart in sustained fashion for the first time. The results range from hypnotically winsome to devastating. “Love Is a Laserquest”, an echoey, glowing, and downright beautiful ballad about longing and regret, falls into the latter category. “When I’m not being honest / I’ll pretend that you were just some lover,” moans Turner as he tries in vain to forget the past. Elsewhere, he poignantly laments, “I can’t think of anything to dream about.” But neither line compares to his painterly description of old age: “When I’m pipe and slippers and rocking chair/ Singing dreadful songs about summer” (or is it “summat”?). Front to back, “Love Is a Laserquest” may be Turner’s finest lyric.


 
5) “Suck It and See”
(Suck It and See, 2011)


“I poured my aching heart into a pop song / I couldn’t get the hang of poetry /  That’s not a skirt, girl / That’s a sawn-off shotgun / And I / Can only hope you’ve got it aimed at me.” And the melody is exquisite.


 
4) “That’s Where You’re Wrong”
(Suck It and See, 2011)


Thus finishes off the striking trio of songs that brings Suck It and See to a close. What sets “That’s Where You’re Wrong” apart? It’s the most complete of the three. Turner can do both “Love Is a Laserquest” and the title cut as solo acoustic numbers, and there’s no drop-off. In fact, they may even be better than the studio versions. Not so with “That’s Where You’re Wrong”. To pull off the track’s spellbinding effect -– it feels like a brisk ocean-side drive rendered in hazy daydream form -– the full-band treatment is necessary. Everyone delivers. The staggered rumble of Helders’ drum-work combined with Nick O’Malley’s insistent bass line tries to keep the arrangement earthbound, while that chiming guitar lick pushes in the opposite direction. It’s a perfect contrast. And as usual, Turner holds up his end of the bargain. His vocal is a model of confident restraint, and the lyric sheet alternates between descriptive enigmas (“Street lamp amber / Wanderlust / Powder in a / Blunderbuss”) and broadly resonant truths. The climactic line: “Don’t take it so personally / You’re not the only one / That time has got it in for, honey/ That’s where you’re wrong.” Who couldn’t relate?


 
3) “Mardy Bum”
(Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, 2006)


At its core, “Mardy Bum” is an intimate and affecting ballad about the nagging struggles that recur in a relationship. There’s no big drama here - no cheating hearts or stormy separations. Instead, Turner focuses on those small sources of conflict: not being on time, certain facial expressions, and mood swings that tend toward the quarrelsome. Considering the rowdy context (Arctic Monkeys’ debut) and, again, Turner’s youth, it’s quite impressive how low-boil and domestic the scenes are. Think of “Mardy Bum” as Oasis’ “Married With Children” but minus the churlish immaturity. In place of “Goodbye / I’m going home,” Turner aims for reconciliation: “Remember cuddles in the kitchen, yeah / To get things off the ground.” The sentiment is sweet, and the motivation seems pure. It’s the stuff of a conventional, even if well-crafted, ballad. Yet, at the same time, “Mardy Bum” deviates from the norm. It is a ballad, but it’s one that moves and grooves and almost wants to be anthemic. There’s a twitchy kick to the sonics, powered mostly by Turner’s spry lead-guitar line, which ebbs and flows at just the right intervals. It allows for both spunky moments and quieter ones. Then in the middle of everything is that booming bridge –- basically the height of Turner’s frustration -– which sets up the solo. For such an unassuming little ditty, “Mardy Bum” delivers in spades. It combines heart and hooks better than anything else in the Arctics’ songbook.


 


 
2) “505”
(Favourite Worst Nightmare, 2007)


If “Mardy Bum” was Turner’s initial foray into affectionate balladry, then “505” stands as his first love song. The amount of vulnerability and passion that he shows was without precedent when Arctic Monkeys released their second LP, Favourite Worst Nightmare. But part of what makes the album-closing “505” so riveting is the journey to that place of high-stakes urgency. It’s indirect, even impressionistic. Rather than shed much light on the nature of the relationship, Turner supplies evocative and hushed snapshots of desire, tension, and uncertainty. He desperately wants to rendezvous with his lover, but something isn’t quite right. When he sings, “Stop and wait a sec / When you look at me like that my darling / What did you expect?,” we can only speculate about the missing details. Even more vague is the subsequent verse, brimming as it does with compelling, artfully veiled imagery: “Not shy of a spark / A knife twists at the thought / That I might fall short of the mark.” All the while, Turner keeps his vocal at an even-keel, and the rest of the band executes a piece-by-piece escalation of the twilight backdrop. Everything builds gradually out of the opening organ shimmers (sampled from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) until Turner finally goes for broke. “I crumble completely when you cry,” he shouts with naked honesty. It’s a thrilling, cathartic climax – one that finds Turner entirely purged of his too-cool cynicism and after-hours swagger. I suppose Turner’s much like the rest of us: he’s human and needs to be loved.


 
1) “A Certain Romance”
(Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, 2006)


“A Certain Romance”, the concluding cut on Arctic Monkey’s debut, is such a first-rate song because it operates so well on various levels. Most immediately, it’s an incisive state-of-the-generation take on chav subculture. “Though they might wear classic Reeboks / Or knackered Converse / Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks,” sings Turner at the outset, setting the scene with an expert touch. These types aren’t always his favorite –- he describes them as thickheaded and chippy—but his aim is to place their tendencies in context. Why that lifestyle? Turner explains, “The point’s that there ain’t no romance / Around there.” It’s a callback to familiar Britpop themes: the wearying effects of a moribund culture, the dead-end of “cigarettes and alcohol” as a credo, etc.


Crucially, though, Turner doesn’t let himself off the hook. He pleads guilty to practicing a double standard: his friends act like dolts too, but “you just cannot get angry in the same way.” The admission not only adds more humanity to Turner’s perspective but it also elevates “A Certain Romance” out of the parochial and into the universal. Who among us hasn’t experienced that forgiving pull of friendship? Who among us hasn’t echoed this sentiment: “What can I say / I’ve known them for a long, long time”? And yet on another, more implicit level, there’s a sense of “A Certain Romance” as some kind of creation story. This is perhaps why the Arctics formed. It was an escape from stale and unpromising day-to-day lives. A la The Beatles, Oasis, and many other British bands, they had few options, and rock ‘n’ roll seemed like the best one. I could go on, and I’ve yet to even mention the superbly dynamic arrangement, which features a hard-charging fake-out opening, a comedown into tempered ska-rock, and a guitar section near the end that’s at once energetic and contemplative. What can I say, “A Certain Romance” just has a certain perfection.


 

Honorable mention: “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”, “Fluorescent Adolescent”, “Do Me a Favour”, “Crying Lightning”, “Piledriver Waltz”

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