Yesterday I pre-ordered the new Arctic Monkeys album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, pressed on a clear vinyl. Not much is known about the album which strikes me as odd – we had over a year and a half between the release of ‘R U Mine?’ and its subsequent release on AM (2013). Perhaps it’ll be the hottest vaporwave release of the year (judging by the title). Who knows? Whilst information trickles through, let’s pass the time by definitively ranking the Arctic Monkeys album.
- AM (2013)
Once pitted as the awkward teens from up north, AM saw the Arctic Monkeys draw blues influences and hip hop loops to produce a confident record. No longer was Turner singing about awkwardly catching the eye of a love interest in a club before bottling it; he was playing the role of the seductive love rat greased up with a leather jacket and a cigarette in mouth. He was the bigger boy he lamented about in earlier songs.
‘Do I Wanna Know’ is a powerful opener followed by ‘R U Mine?’ – 3 minutes and 21 seconds of madness against a pounding bass and drums section and an iconic fuzzy guitar. ‘Arabella’ gives a nod to rock gods Black Sabbath whilst ‘Knee Socks’ provides a homage to the influence of Josh Homme – the Queen’s of the Stone Age singer himself found wailing on the track as it relentlessly echoes it’s chorus.
Yet AM is, in parts, a forgettable album for me. When I think Arctic Monkeys, ‘I Want It All’, ‘Fireside’ and ‘Mad Sounds’ aren’t what jump to mind. ‘No. 1 Party Album’ is a ‘stick your lighters in the air’ filler for Turner to demonstrate his newfound cool factor (as he seemingly sees it) whilst the homages to John Cooper Clarke are welcome but overdone. It seems that the band wanted to pander for wider audiences, perhaps across the pond – at least it paid off in terms of their success albeit at the expense of once humble egos. I’d still give it 7 out of 10 though for its experimentation, its bold sound and its great composition.
- Suck It and See (2011)
In 2014, this was it: my favourite Arctic Monkeys album. The album has a distinct lullaby tone to it as Alex Turner croons his way through the ballads offered on Suck It and See. ‘She’s Thunderstorms’ is a well-meaning, yet distinctly eerie, pop-inspired opener. ‘Reckless Serenade’ demonstrates Turner’s grasp on the English language and his ability to craft to poetry against an indie symphony of reverbed guitars and imaginative bass lines; “called up to listen to the voice of reason, but got the answering machine,” a stand-out lyric. ‘Library Pictures’ is energetic. ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ demonstrates a reverence to the desert rock influences on the band. ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’ is a great effort.
Yet, upon reflection, the album falls down in the respect that the songs all merge into one drone of hopeless romanticism and similar sounding guitar effect pedals. At times it feels like Turner has been let loose with a thesaurus and an urge to prove he would have aced his English degree had he not dropped out from University to become an indie superstar. The lyrics are clever but their constant barrage falls foul to becoming overbearing.
‘All My Own Stunts’ is a somewhat messy effort whilst ‘Piledriver Waltz’ sounded better on Submarine; to me it seemed as though Turner didn’t want the masses to miss such a great song. ‘Evil Twin’, a B-side to ‘Suck It and See’, is actually a better song than the A-side (see for yourself). ‘Love is a Laserquest’ and ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ sound like run-of-the-mill 90s songs found on nostalgic Britpop revival playlists. Maybe that’s where I’M wrong, but it’s my opinion and my list. Still, a great album – it gets 7.2 from me.
- Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)
The first album I ever pre-ordered, I wish I could place it higher in the list. The album had a lot to follow up on considering their debut was a colossal success that plunged the band into the spotlight. With Nick O’Malley joining the band on the bass, the Arctic Monkeys would discover a distinct indie-pop sound on Favourite Worst Nightmare – one defined by hellish adrenaline, raw bass riffs and exciting, sing-along melodies.
‘Brianstorm’, ‘Teddy Picker’ and ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ are brilliant songs whilst ‘505’ and ‘’Only Ones Who Know’ showcase Alex Turner’s ability to be sincere and heartbroken – a contrast to the happy-go-lucky, yet socially awkward, figure he cut on the debut album. Turner spoke from what he felt internally as opposed to what he saw externally. With Favourite Worst Nightmare, the band showed they were not only great songwriters – they were national heroes.
But why third? The songs on it are each great in their own right with the exception of ‘The Bad Thing’. But for the most part, the songs are a solid 7 to 8, but they lack the punch to fight amongst the higher placed albums. Sure they strike a balance between the fast-pace of ‘This House is a Circus’ and the sombre nature of ‘Do Me a Favour’ but the lyrics aren’t as gripping and the sound isn’t as raw. It’s a decent, middle of the road album for the lads – a great follow up to the debut that didn’t buckle under the pressure. Instead, it seemed to relish it. A solid 7.7 out of 10.
- Humbug (2009)
Humbug is perhaps my favourite Arctic Monkeys album. The album is a true coming of age record for the band; it showcases Turner’s ability to write exquisite allegories and demonstrates his flair with spoken word. It’s murky, darker and establishes a more psychedelic atmosphere than previous efforts. They’re no longer playing in the high-street bars of Sheffield; they’re frequenting the dim jazz clubs in the middle-of-nowhere.
Whilst the first album dealt with female encounters and interaction, the second dealt with the aspects of relationships. ‘Cornerstone’ from Humbug, however, showcases Turner’s descent into madness after a breakup – desperate to call every girl he meets the name of his ex. The full circle. Produced by Josh Homme, the band first found their desert rock, blues-inspired sound on Humbug that would pioneer their more recent sound.
‘Secret Door’, ‘Fire and the Thud’ and ‘Dance Little Liar’ are better attempts than some that found their way on AM, ‘Crying Lightning’ showcases Turner at his lyrical best and the electrifying ‘Pretty Visitors’ is somewhat of a gripping, yet demented, circus-inspired anthem. The album, for me, represents when the band was ahead of the game, even ahead of themselves, and reached a creative peak. This was the golden age of the band – 8.3 out of 10.
- Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)
You know, I’m going to be honest: I almost ranked this album fifth. I haven’t visited the album in years and haven’t had the mind to. Growing up alongside the band, I found myself maturing as their music did. I learnt to appreciate the deep lyrics, the poetry and the darker, more distorted sound of their modern music. Humbug became my favourite album because it encompassed all of the above. But revisiting the album for this list put that into perspective – it rekindled the flames.
I was coming on thirteen when this album came out and I loved the energy it contained. The social commentary didn’t make sense to me at the time but the composition, the riffs and solos resonated. Revisiting the album in later years, when I understood the messages, saw me experience the album through new eyes – I had a eureka moment as to how this album defined my generation and me.
‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ has become the British adolescent national anthem and a mainstay at a Propaganda indie night (albeit perhaps inspiring groans from twenty-somethings when chosen on a jukebox – no fault of the song, mind you). The ballads to rubbish bands no one wants to listen to in bars (‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’), the experience of run-ins with bouncers (‘From the Ritz to The Rubble’), awkwardly messing up your chance chatting up a girl in a club (‘You Probably Couldn’t See For The Lights But You Were Staring Straight At Me’) – for many, it’s relatable subject matter. ‘A Certain Romance’ is without a doubt their best track to date.
Then there’s ‘When the Sun Goes Down’, a clever narrative of prostitution in Sheffield. The energy of ‘Dancing Shoes’ and ‘Still Take You Home’. ‘Mardy Bum’ is a feel-good song that puts an arm round your shoulder after an argument with your other half and says: “we’ve all been there, buddy.” Sure, I’ve never liked ‘Riot Van’ but I can appreciate what it’s going for – it fits amidst the sound of the generation without a direction, guided by the weekend, staying out of trouble (or at least trying to) and where’s selling the cheapest drinks.
Without a doubt, the album that pioneered the band’s success subsequently changed the course of indie music forever. It took witty lyrics and relentless marketing on MySpace from the underground (or ‘beneath the boardwalk’) to the history books of modern music. Rediscovering this album – and the B-sides – has helped me realise how great this album was. It sits at the top with an impressive score of 8.5 out of 10.
Featured image source: Hollywood Reporter