9 Aug

humbug cover

When the Arctic Monkeys play live, they do everything wrong. They’re shy, play their biggest hit as an opener and close on a slow moving, depressing track like 505. Faced with legions of cardigan wearing hipsters and laddish Britpop fans, they play Warren G or Public Enemy before taking to the stage with a drummer that is dressed exclusively by JD Sports. All of these things, combined with the impossible politeness of Alex Turner, go against any traditional template for rock success. But, against all odds, it works and for a band with the live power of Oasis and the kind of uniquely British lyrics unseen since The Smiths split, a new album is as exciting as any live event.

Humbug is an album that between skeletal bass and twisted, imaginary gloom manages to pull out anthem after anthem. Whether it’s the kind of spitting, brooding angst of Pretty Visitors or Cornerstone, a waltzy love song, all tracks have giant choruses and the required sing-along potential for the current tour circuit of arenas and festivals. More than before, vocals are pushed forward, perhaps after Turner found his softer voice by inventing The Last Shadow Puppets and becoming skilled in the ways of the croon. Or perhaps it’s because Queens of The Stone Age main man Josh Homme produced seven of the ten tracks on Humbug. Put against the wall beside the band, rock slab Homme looks every inch the greasy redneck biker who has come to steal the children and bury them in the desert. Instead, he’s helped the band add scale to their tales. This album wasn’t written in a lonely bar while casting imaginary characters in Sheffield soap opera songs and it shows.

Homme’s trademark heavy drone is everywhere and for every bass blowout, there’s the familiar jangle and rapid riff attack from Turner. On My Propeller, the song is driven down, constantly descending until the chorus drags the song out of depression and back to the kind of sunshine indie that you’d expect from Ash. It’s a weird mix and one that only works because the band are as open to new ideas as anyone. On paper it reads like Dave Grohl lending Morrissey a hand but on record, it makes perfect sense. Just as fellow Queens of The Stone age guitarist Dean Fertita joins The Dead Weather to release Horehound, similar traces of the Homme/Queens of The Stone Age influence can be found on those songs. A couple wouldn’t feel out of place on Humbug, which shows how diverse and versatile the Arctic Monkeys really are.

First single Crying Lighting is a star spangled psychedelic run through the strange subjects that Turner can transform into songs in minutes. Like the first album, songs are often narratives but narratives in the style of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas instead of traditional songs about Sheffield or ‘cuddles in the kitchen to get things of the ground’. Put that Mardy Bum lyric beside ‘make a mess lioness’ from Dangerous Animals and you’ll see swaggering, primal confidence replacing the embarrassed idea of fronting a rock band. This is the Arctic Monkeys album that demands a bigger stage and a giant band to fill it. Happily, that’s just what Turner and friends have become, without actually noticing it themselves.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: