Arctic Monkeys’ fifth studio album AM is the work of a band at its peak. Turning in their initial grungy, “pub-punk” style for a more polished and sophisticated rock n’ roll vibe, the quartet from Sheffield, England has come a long way since its 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.
Nearly a decade later, Arctic Monkeys has created a record that is a career-high, a defining turning point and a successful experimentation with a new and enticing sound.
Recorded at Sage and Sound Recording in L.A. and Rancho De La Luna in Joshua Tree, Cali, the album features performances with Elvis Costello’s drummer Pete Thomas and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. AM is also mixed by Tchad Blake, who is notable for having worked on The Black Keys’ breakthrough hit album Brothers. His influence is undeniable, as comparisons have run abound between the two bands’ retro-rock band sound.
Though innovative, AM stays consistent with Arctic Monkeys’ trademark themes of lust, frustration, sex and other illicit activities (see: “Why’d You Always Call Me When You’re High?”) What is different here is the driving rhythmic force of the musicality which is featured in the crashing climax of “Arabella,” the powerful guitar riffs in “I Want It All,” and the pounding rhythm of “Knee Socks.”
AM is bound together by lead singer Alex Turner’s well-tuned voice which carries the album from start to finish. The front man and lyricist soars vocally in the hazy dream-like lyrics of “No. 1 Party Anthem,” slowing to the rhythmic beat of the crashing cymbals and soulful piano not unlike one of his inspirations, John Lennon.
Arctic Monkeys’ does not shy away from more eclectic styles. “Fireside” showcases a more mellow sound, taking a break from the grinding electric guitar and giving a nod to Alex Turner’s side project, The Last Shadow Puppets, with a stream of acoustic strumming. Arguably, “Mad Sounds” is the album’s only optimistic track, the lyrics (“Suppose you’ve gotta do what you gotta do / We just weren’t feeling how we wanted to / …Mad sounds in your ears, they make you get up and dance”) are surrounded by a chorus of warmhearted “ooh la la la las” reminiscent of 1960’s counterculture.
The album closes with the haunted and psychedelic “I Wanna Be Yours,” crooning AM to a concluding, heart-wrenching ballad.
Arctic Monkeys’ newfound musical direction brings a fresh, emphatic sound and embodies a passion the band did not necessarily show before AM. Music critics have commended the album as representative of a “golden age” the band is currently experiencing. From its garage-band indie origins, the Arctic Monkeys have defined a sleek modern rock style for today’s generation that shows little signs of disappearing any time soon.