Arctic Monkeys give every young bloke with a guitar a glint of hope in their eyes. It’s hard to believe that four young men from Sheffield, England were fresh out of school and still living with their parents when they suddenly rocketed into a world of mainstream success.
Arctic Monkeys modestly appeared in 2006 with a debut album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” which unexpectedly latched itself to the ears of the British population and infected them with its array of fast-paced, upbeat songs packed with the charisma and wit. This album would eventually become the fastest-selling debut album in British history, garnering high success in the U.S. as well – even surpassing the Beatles by selling over 120,000 records in just one day. This band had just the right amount of quirky charm to take Britain by storm. This caused them to rake up an absurd amount of top hits and awards parallel to the absurd amount of songs they churned out.
Within two years of exploding on scene, Arctic Monkeys already had two albums, two EPs and six singles to their name – accomplishing everything before reaching the age of 21. Whatever Arctic Monkeys were doing, they were doing it right.
After the faster, louder, second album was frantically spewed out only a year after the first album, the next album on the unstoppable queue would be the band’s latest release, “Humbug.” With a heavier, darker tone, it might take about three or four full hearings of “Humbug” to accept that the Arctic Monkeys simply aren’t the same band able to stir immediate love from its audience anymore. This album clearly doesn’t have the attention-grabbing aspects of their previous beat-throbbing, fun-loving tracks.
“Humbug” is melancholic, heavy and almost daunting. It’s obvious to see the profound influence that producer Josh Hommes, lead singer of Queens of the Stone Age, had on their sound. Hommes’ grubby fingerprints are all over “Humbug’s” tracks, and the album starts to sound more and more like his “Lullabies to Paralyze” record with its thick, chunky chords and nonchalant wailings. Not to say that Queens of the Stone Age hasn’t produced some great music, it’s just that the Arctic Monkeys are a different band with a different sound that has worked well for them in the past.
The album’s first single, “Crying Lighting,” follows this gravelly Queens of the Stone Age pattern. Rather than overshadowing the band with his thick, distinct Yorkshire accent, Alex Turner attempts a more drawling, husky croon. Unfortunately, this masks his lovable accent, and his voice eventually blends in with the other instruments. The downplaying of Turner’s voice takes away from their signature sound, and the importance of the lyrics, which has also been an integral part of Arctic Monkeys’ success.
In “Crying Lighting,” Turner sings of a man’s past-time being “strange and twisted and deranged,” while “The Jeweller’s Hand” tells an equally ominous tale filled with imagery of a “fiendish wonder in a carnival’s wake.” Turner evidently kept his penchant for telling captivating and poetic stories through songs; but gone is the cheeky, unabashed wit of his older lyrics.
“Cornerstone” and “Secret Door,” two of “Humbug’s” slower ballads, paint a more relaxed and mature image, and it does prove them worthy of being a more versatile band than expected. However, the songs sound weary overall and become dull and uninteresting after a few listens.
“Dangerous Animals,” a more upbeat tone reminiscent of older works, also becomes tepid and repetitious. This song just becomes too heavy to listen to. It eventually starts to blend together as one big mash of muddied chords and barely-there vocals.
This is even more evident in “Fire and The Thud,” one of the album’s most lacking tracks, where Turner tries too hard to pour sensuous feelings into some forgettable slow-grunge rock. Arctic Monkeys haven’t typically been sultry and dark, and it makes for an awkward listening experience.
“Humbug’s” eerie tales of mystery are a step back from the sarcastic, social commentary found in the first album. Turner isn’t urging people to get off the bandwagon, nor is he complaining about romantically-inclined chavs wearing classic Reeboks, nor does he call critics vampires with stale stories.
The starkly different sound of “Humbug” as opposed to the Monkeys’ earlier works will rework their overall discography as one that is weaker and less energetic. From now on there won’t be the phrase “quintessential Arctic Monkeys;” for “Humbug” is so different that it raises the question of which direction they will head next.