By Edward Burnett
It is no secret that the Arctic Monkeys are my personal all-time favourite band. This is for a plethora of reasons but we can whittle these down to their poetic lyricism, complicated-yet-catchy tunes and of course, me being a Yorkshire lad myself like the rocking four-piece. Yet the focal point of this article is a strength of the Sheffield band that is not listed there but rather one that leads to a certain theory I’ve harboured for some time surrounding Alex Turner and Co.
Before we get into the theory itself, firstly I must discuss the strength which prompts this. What really makes Arctic Monkeys shine is their alterations in style and sound from each album to the next. No two releases are ever the same with the band going from indie-punk tones on their debut to a more sonic, stylised rock on the multi award-winning ‘AM’. This knack of changing their image and sound with every album while managing to also succeed in such transitions shows why the band are one of the very best around. The Monkeys’ talent evidently has no ceiling.
So what’s the theory then? What has the Northern English group’s multiple regenerations got to do with anything? Well pardon the pun but let’s build this theory up ‘Brick By Brick’. Firstly, the base-point of my thinking is that there are several songs per album that don’t belong there but rather on the succeeding album instead. This act gives an air of foreshadowing for what is to come in the next album.
One major instance of this is between 2009’s ‘Humbug’ and 2011’s ‘Suck It and See’. I would argue that out of the entire AM discography, these two albums represent the biggest jump in changing themes from both a lyrics and a genre perspective. On one hand we have the aggressive, moody and sonic ‘Humbug’ which encompasses mystery and some dread through its enticing lyrics of danger and mystification. On the other hand we have the band’s fourth studio album, ‘Suck It and See’- a romantic collection of songs that give a quieter, acoustic vibe. Just from these two descriptions, never mind from listening to the two differing albums, one can tell that the band had changed monumentally in just three years. Was there any signs though to suggest this change was coming and thus support the overarching theory of foreshadowing? Yes, yes there were. Take the seventh track, ‘Cornerstone’, from ‘Humbug’ as the key example. This track doesn’t possess the darker themes that show to be the norm in its fellow songs. Instead the song is a far softer romance ballad that feels out of place next to the heavier songs like ‘Crying Lightning’ and ‘Dangerous Animals’. It’s cute and enchanting aura suits the songs of ‘Suck It and See’ far more with it being extremely similar in content to ‘Piledriver Waltz’ in particular.
Another example amongst many others to point out is the jump to ‘Humbug’ itself from the group’s second album, 2007’s ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’. The Monkeys’ sophomore album brought about the introduction of their now uniquely iconic lyricism which featured symbolic language and references. This was a step forward creatively when compared to their very down to Earth and realism-heavy debut ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’. The second album therefore thematically, although changing the way in which the themes were presented via abstract comparisons, did stay the same as the first with a punchy attitude and a positive sound. However, there are some signs on the album which indicate the dip to the darkside that the band were due to take with ‘Humbug’. Namely ‘If You Were There, Beware’ springs to mind at an instant. Here we have a song riddled with imagery of serpents, witches and regret. All these gloomy motifs are painted against a deeper background beat which features sharp and almost unplanned musical twist and turns resulting in an unsettling nature. This very atmosphere is shown regularly throughout ‘Humbug’ and is what the album is of course characterised by.
Whether all this is planned or merely experimental chance, it matters not. What does indeed matter is that it occurs and intriguingly has a long track record of it. Therefore we might all need a closer listen to the Monkeys’ most recent studio release, 2018’s ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’, to see what’s in store for us when the band finally reconvene for AM7. I hope my sharing of the theory has added another level to your enjoyment of listening to the band and now we at RNRR aren’t the ‘Only Ones Who Know’ about it.
If you'd like to find out more about Arctic Monkeys and keep up to date with their latest releases and the rumoured AM7, the links to all their socials are below via the icons: