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It’s true – the metamorphosis of Arctic Monkeys is mirrored in changes to Alex Turner‘s haircut, so AM brings with it a whole new coiffure. See, for instance, Turner’s casual home-town locks circa the band’s record-breaking debut, the straight post-punk lines of Favourite Worst Nightmare, the pseudo-Sabbath rocker-helmet of Humbug and the lazy mop-top of the sparser Suck It and See. Now we have a clean, dark, slicked-back, Danny Zuko number which Turner seems to have stolen from his musical BFF and AM spin-doctor Josh Homme. For the most part, the new hairstyle mirrors the slick new tunes it brings with it, but perhaps Homme still pulls off that hard-rock Elvis thing a little bit more convincingly.
AM harks back to that blues-influenced rock and pop balladry of music’s supposed ‘golden era’, whilst injecting small hints of R&B and neo-psychedelia into the mix. It’s the former combination which comes through the strongest, though. We’re no longer stuck in the post-Alexa Chung phase; Turner has moved on, and Arctic Monkeys’ fifth studio album brings its revived (if slightly awkward) sexuality into the foreground.
Sex sells. If it’s a cliche, then it’s because it’s true, and AM‘s first half sells it and sells it well: the leather jackets, the having to wear sunglasses for videos shot at night thing, the dry and Americanised guitar riffs, and the questions of R U Mine? and Do I Wanna Know?.
The whole “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” trope is almost over-played, but is kept at a safe level to keep the fan-boys and fan-girls happy whilst not disturbing the peace. His brilliant lyricism skips around the subject in head-spin lines like this, found in the Zeppelin-esque Arabella: “She’s got a Barbarella silver swimsuit / And when she needs to shelter from reality she takes a dip in my day dreams.” Turner is still one of the best contemporary songwriters when it comes to combining narrative with suggestive metaphor.
The second half of AM is more controlled by comparison, leaning back on pop structures to highlight Turner’s songwriting finesse. There are still some quirky surprises, though, with falsetto “ooh la las” on the Gospel-laden Mad Sounds and some “shoo wop shoo wops” on the Flamenco-tinged Fireside. These second-half tracks are a little more derivative, and Turner’s lyrics grow increasingly strange (like “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner” on I Wanna Be Yours), but the majority of it is driven by undeniably catchy earwoom hooks.
AM is by no means Arctic Monkeys’ best work, though there’s little consensus between fans as to what is. The band’s brand of English indie-rock is growing more and more Americanised (perhaps too much time spent with Homme). It’s now also dotted with more archaic styles and, whilst this adds to the variety, the band’s core English sound has eroded slightly. That aside, AM remains as one of their more consistent pieces of work to date – just keep your eyes on Turner’s hair in case he opts for something a little more his own.