A year removed from their electric performance at the London Olympic Games opening ceremony, the Arctic Monkeys return with the much-anticipated album AM, a modern, sleek regeneration of their signature sound.
The Monkeys have done an expert job of trading punk for funk on their fifth release, and the result should be considered one of the most important rock records of the year. Riff-heavy and dark, the album is built on ominous west coast hip-hop inspired beats and woven together with soulful hooks. AM, with its sinusoidal album art and possibly acronymic title, is a rock-and-roll heartache at its finest.
The album opens with the instant classic, “Do I Wanna Know?” Front man Alex Turner sings of the angst of uncertain love over an infectious guitar riff and sleazy drum loop. The Monkeys appreciation of the Black Keys shines right through the track, which rings with a sort of arena rock swagger that can only be gained after a group opens the Olympics.
According to the British population, they can do no wrong. The Monkeys set a record on AM’s release: five consecutive number one albums by a band on an independent label. The band also earned their third Mercury Prize nomination in last minute fashion for the effort. The Brits certainly go bananas for their Monkeys.
AM is lyrically solid throughout, but Alex Turner’s genius particularly shines on “Annabella.” The track opens with a deceiving hip-hop groove that unfolds into a churning power chord chorus, culminating in a raucous solo courtesy of guitarist Jamie Cook.
The album slows through its mid-section with the woozy, drunken ballad “No. 1 Party Anthem.” Over a sleepy piano soundtrack the scene is set: a sweaty nightclub full of intoxicated patrons looking for non-committal love.
On the ironic track, Turner croons of late night romantic desperation, a man in wait for the perfect song to incite a spark of passion when alcohol just isn’t enough.
On AM, the Arctic Monkeys prove they sound equally as good on the dance floor as they look. The mid-tempo hip-hop infused tracks are unapologetically danceable.
The third single “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” opens with a beat more akin to something one would hear on a Dr. Dre release.
Sonically, AM comes off even rawer at times than 2011’s Suck it and See, an evident continuation of the DIY ethic the band embraced after the more thoroughly produced Humbug. The evolution of the Monkeys since 2006 has been profound, yet not unnatural.
The soulful “Knee socks” is light-years away from anything featured on the Monkey’s Sex Pistol-esque debut album, yet doesn’t sound forced. The track features guest vocals from Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, who has frequently contributed to Monkeys albums in the past.
The 12-track release closes with the formidable “I Wanna Be Yours,” a tender reworking of 70’s punk poet John Cooper Clarke’s poem of the same name. The song ends the album thematically as it starts, it seems as if the question posed in the opening track has yet to be answered; Turner remains yearning for love.
Whether or not that love is ever found however, the album is a roaring success for the Monkeys.
It represents all that a rock record should offer, and verifies the Arctic Monkeys’ worthiness of being mentioned alongside Oasis and Blur as Brit guitar-rock greats.
Fraumeni is a member of the class of 2017.