Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

Yikes, all of that hype that swirled around Arctic Monkeys really was massive, huh? I mean, when you sit back and reflect, on just one day of sales their first album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, became the fastest-selling British album in history, in ONE day. During the same month that it was released, NME published a list that featured that same album as the fifth greatest British album, above all of the albums by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

After that, they quickly wrote and released their second album, the underrated but terrifically excellent Favourite Worst Nightmare, within a year of their first album’s release. What’s happened since then is an attempt to recapture that same magic, because although many don’t hear it, their second album is just as good as their first. With Humbug, they have an album that can be fully enjoyed by anyone willing to give it a fair chance. Pairing up with Queens of the Stone Age mastermind, Josh Homme (who produced seven of the ten tracks,) these same Monkeys have delivered an album that grows on you with each listen. This is a stark difference from their erstwhile work, as that was music that immediately hit and stuck you; Humbug is all about the change in sound and theme with one key element still intact, exceptional musicianship.

You can’t fault them for going this route because, in actuality, they’ve opened up and created something new and distinct. After the opening drum introduction on “My Propeller”, it’s effortlessly clear that there’s been a striking shift in terms of sound. Alex Turner’s voice is still the star of the show; his accent is undeniably addicting, all the while providing a true singularity to the band. While the desert guitar looms in the background, with the drums pattering away, the song’s burning theme evokes images of distant sand waves engulfing Turner within his complacent stance.

 “Dance Little Liar” is an amazing achievement in terms of composition because of the way it opens up, revealing some of the hardest-hitting chord changes of the year. Throughout the song, the guitar rips off these changes, in such a subtle manner that it tricks the listener into forgetting its even there. What is heard is the booming of a snare drum that never lets up, a bass-driven melody and Turner’s clouded, shrouded vocals. Slowly, gradually and intricately, comes the guitar’s revelation as it strikes through the clouds like lightning: shattering everything in its place, it’s left all alone to begin one amazing building of sounds. Add drums, add bass and then add some towering vocals and it all equals a compositional marvel that all leads back into Turner’s touching singing.

You can’t come into this and expect each song to spin off into a pounding expulsion because you’d be sorely disappointed. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some of those explosions just waiting to happen. Turner’s lyrics are some of the wittiest he’s ever delivered and they shine on the album’s entryway into a new look for the Monkeys. On “Crying Lightning”, Turner and his bandmates sing about a horrid relationship before giving way to a menacing guitar and drum clash. It’s boldly arranged like some sort of horror climax but with the amount of calamity, it’s comfortably distinguished. If there’s any kind of wonder as to why the production on all of the songs feels like a shade of gray has been cast, it’s because the rest of the songs were produced by The Last Shadow Puppets producer, James Ford. But that gray lends itself in a grand way, it’s shadow surrounds the album closer, “The Jeweller’s Hands”, like a cloak over a disguised result. And that result is the pure fact that these are brilliant musicians who know exactly what they are doing.

So yes, they survived that monstrous amount of hype that was poured on top of everything they touched. Humbug isn’t so much a stab at what surrounded them but a proud standing point that these are amazing musicians with an impeccable ear for melody. If nothing else, they’ve proven that there actually can be as much of an emphasis on atmosphere as there is on energy and when you’re as good of a band as Arctic Monkeys is, this creates a heavenly fusion.

Domino