It’s not news that Arctic Monkeys have gone through a great metamorphosis since their boom in the UK music scene back in 2005. When they released Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not — a title that reflected adolescence’s rebelliousness — they seemed to be young boys just like any of us. With their ordinary clothes and electrifying riffs, nobody would have expected that they would someday become real rock stars.
Everything about their new album, AM, seems slightly foreign at first, but it is actually a perfectly logical step. Am I incorrect to say it is the proper follow-up to their sophomore album, 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare? AM fills in the unsatisfying gaps of Humbug (2009) and Suck It and See (2011) and has transformed them into middle steps: the former’s stoner rock are rejuvenated with a dose of sensuality while the latter’s sweet melodies have been reinvented in the piano ballad “Snap Out of It”, and in the intense and dim acoustic guitars of “Fireside”.
While on Humbug the high-pitch backing vocals were most of the times quite dull, Matt Helders and Nick O’Malley can now manipulate them perfectly in order to make a solid unity without overshadowing Alex Turner’s voice. Although they tried to make poppy songs in Suck it and See, the charming side was most of the times unsatisfying (with the exceptions of the beautiful “Love Is a Laserquest” and “Piledriver Waltz”). But now, with the return of Turner’s perfect precision, the catchy hooks are finally back after the rather bland vocal performance in their previous two albums.
AM is surprising most of all not because of the music itself, since this change is based on their previous releases, but because the change is beyond music: they make clear that they are not amateur kids anymore and are instead professional musicians. This is also reflected in their image, a process that started at the end of 2011 and became more evident with the release of “R U Mine?” as a single for Record Store Day. Turner is now confident onstage, wears suits, and has a stylish hairstyle, while the lyrics are full of tour references (“One More for the Road” being the clearest one) and, if there was ever a trace of innocence, it has now been completely erased.
However, the lyrics are again, just like on the band’s debut, focused in the nightlife, only now Turner doesn’t aim to be a witness of his generation anymore and instead he introduces us to his own personal experiences. “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” is reminiscent of the drunken text messages of “The View from the Afternoon” (“And you could pour your heart out around 3 o’clock when the 2-for-1’s undone the writer’s block”) while the line “I said a thousand million things that I could never say this morning” from “From the Ritz to the Rubble” is echoed in the chorus of “Do I Wanna Know?”: “Baby, we both know that the nights were mainly made for saying things that you can’t say tomorrow day”.
Alex Turner’s new maturity as a songwriter is evident in this straightforward self-portrait .Even if the lyrics might not be autobiographical, he was able to build up a character involved in a believable relationship, and just like in his band’s debut, there is a vague idea of a concept album: “No. 1 Party Anthem” closes the mutual and secret attraction; “Mad Sounds” represents the best moment shared together with that airy and unworried feeling; and “Fireside” is the beginning of the end, that culminates with the longing and nostalgia of “I Wanna Be Yours”.
This similarity in the lyrics to the ones of their debut, shows that, although Arctic Monkeys’ acne has now disappeared, AM is far from being an adult album — which isn’t necessarily a negative aspect. They simply approached their music with a different attitude that was necessary for this era to be finally concluded, unless their next album proves that AM was just another middle step. I guess we’ll only know that in a couple of years, but for now there are many — and I’m definitely in-between them — who believe that Arctic Monkeys can’t take anything else from the desert and should either go back to the cold and cloudy Northern England or try something completely new. But we needn’t worry; they still have a lot of time to experiment and innovate. After all, they are still only in their twenties.