The first track I ever heard from the UK’s Arctic Monkeys was “Who the Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys,” on the EP of the same name. It was dangerous, crass, and ridiculously catchy, taking the sound of The Strokes and Buzzcocks, and reinvigorating it with a youthful vigour that was meant to be blasted. I never fully understood all of the English phrases and intricacies within the lyrics, but this made me discover more modern music and even films on that side of the world. I loved it, but every year—as the band found more and more success overseas—and eventually pulled a 180 on that dangerous indie alt-rock style and switched out for a lounge crooner rock with Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, I fell out of love with them.
Tranquility was one of the most polarizing albums of my career as a music journalist. Some loved it, others despised it. I was pretty indifferent after hearing it once and not remembering a single aspect to talk about. To me, it was as if the album existed in a parallel universe where music was only played during elevator ascents.
This brings us to the latest album, The Car, which continues this lounge rock style that leader Alex Turner one day woke up and decided to pursue. As a whole, The Car is more purposeful and cohesive than the randomness of Tranquility, but it’s still ultimately forgettable. There’s just really no payoff on any of the songs and this balladeer persona Turner is no longer faking, but fully submerged himself in, sometimes comes off as forced. I’m just not sure he has the chops to really sell it, no matter how many falsettos he’s pushing out. In all, the lyricism usually has no real meat to it and comes off as rather bland in its presentation and wit.
There are some points of swift instrumentation, such as the string arrangments and atmospheric bass synths on “Sculptures Of Anything Goes” or the organ on “Jet Skis On The Moat,” but it’s really all for naught, because again, there’s no payoff, or if there is, I’m not hearing it. The closest we get is on “Body Paint,” which is close to exploding into an ELO-esque glam rock epic halfway through but ends with a predictable guitar line with a few bends. “Big Ideas,” and the outro of “Hello You” also have an esoteric feel to them with the interplay between bright guitar and strings, but I’m really grasping here.
The Car unfortunately won’t hold a candle to earlier Arctic Monkeys albums and it’s not meant to. This is a different band now that wants to clearly make soundtracks to James Bond films. It’s a band not full of fools, but guys who got too big and bored, looking for different ways to make music. I anticipate them jumping into another genre in a few years, again gaining and losing fans all the same.