Arctic Monkeys: The Car is dramatic, lush and proof of their greatness
It’s time to embrace new Arctic Monkeys rather than bemoan how they’ve changed - their seventh album is wonderful.
“I had big ideas, the band was so excited / The kind you'd rather not share over the phone” croons Alex Turner on The Car’s ‘Big Ideas’. He continues: “But now, the orchestras got us all surrounded / And I cannot for the life of me remember how they go”. The lyrics on the album’s seventh track seem fitting to the situation the Sheffield band now find themselves in.
Changing dramatically in recent years, the sound and energy which got people excited in the first place has changed so much they’re almost unrecognisable from those "tracky bottom tucked in socks" lads we all fell in love with in the mid-00s. To some, the progression of the band has ensured they remain fresh and go down as one of the greats, to others, it’s a betrayal of their guitar rock roots.
For the former crowd, joining the evolutionary ride has been easy, we're more than content with what they’ve offered up on their seventh studio album. You see, The Car has Arctic Monkeys in new found cinematic territory, the strings throughout adding an overwhelming touch of flavour and class. Turner, once a reluctant frontman, is empowered, his vocal style more relaxed and contemplative: more retired and refined, less late-night rockstar of yesteryear.
Those wanting soaring guitars and a return to thrashing anthems will be disappointed, but The Car offers a band who are unapologetically progressing their sound beyond replication. In a recent interview with the NME, Alex Turner admitted to going into the initial recordings with a desire “to write louder songs than we had for some time”. Once the group got together, this back-to-basics idealism was scrapped. It didn’t feel natural to return to scorched earth and even the frontman was surprised at the grand sound they collectively opted for.
Arctic Monkeys intentions are laid bare on the soothing pianos and strings of opener ‘There’d Better Be A Mirrorball’, the introduction sounding Bond-esque in its scope. 55 seconds in, Turner brings us crashing back down to earth to tell himself “don’t get emotional, that ain’t like you”, lamenting the “old romantic fool” he’s become. Be it for girls on Sheffield dancefloors or Californian models, we’re used to hearing Turner full of lust and passion, so when he’s offering up genuine heartache emotion, the vulnerability can’t help but have impact.
‘Body Paint’ is the most accessible and enjoyable track on the record, more in tune with their AM-era than any other. What begins as a baroque pop delight takes an epic crashing turn halfway through and the song’s earworm refrain sounds majestic: “There’s still a trace of body paint / on your legs and on your arms and on your face”.
‘Hello You’ is another which combines the new Arctic Monkeys with the band at the peak of their powers a decade ago. Amongst the hookiest and smooth on the album (“Hello you / Still draggin’ out a long goodbye?” Turner asks on the song’s chorus), it has emerged as a clear record favourite for many fans, bringing strings and guitars together with style and grace.
Elsewhere there’s plenty to get excited about. ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’ has the Sheffield band in new found terrain with its ‘wah wah’ guitars and funky groove, whilst ‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’ is bass heavy, possessing a darker, ominous feeling both in its brooding production and identity crisis laden lyrics. Turner worries about his band “Puncturing your bubble of relatability / With your horrible new sound” and how playing the new style to their established audience as being similar to “performin' in Spanish on Italian TV” - an instant personal favourite.
On ‘Mr Schwartz’ Alex Turner channels the acoustic plucking of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page for a lush, penultimate delight. “If that's what it takes to say goodnight / Then that's what it takes” declares Turner on the final words of ‘Perfect Sense’ - a gorgeous end, the strings sounding as luscious as ever.
Where the likes of AM and Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not instantly enthral, the subtlety of The Car demands we give it several listens before its true textured beauty is revealed. In some respects, those ‘00s indie pin-up days feel like a distant memory. And as tempting as another thrashing rock record would’ve been, it's hard not to be won over eventually with this excellent album.
The swirling strings which possess prominence throughout contribute to creating Arctic Monkeys most lush and classy effort to date. It’s by far more accessible than their last record, which was perhaps a left turn too far for many earlier fans to take – people who still won’t be willing to give their new one the time it deserves due to its perceived pretention and lack of guitar anthems.
Despite the abundance of strings and drama, what’s clear though is how down-to-earth The Car is compared to their last album Tranquillity Bass Hotel & Casino (in more ways than one). Their seventh album is more emotionally involved too: The Car is a delightful listen that grows with each play. It’s time to embrace new Arctic Monkeys rather than bemoan how they’ve changed. This is wonderful stuff.