By Edward Burnett
The Arctic Monkeys' third studio album, ‘Humbug’, was released ten years ago this week and can be characterised by frontman Alex Turner’s own lyrics from hit single ‘Crying Lightning’: it consists of “the strange and twisted and deranged”. Yet the album is far more than that and can be viewed as being pivotal to propelling (yes, mind the pun) the career of the High Green indie rockers.
Prior to Humbug’s release, the Monkeys were known for their jumpy, rocky punk-esque songs which reflected on very real topics such as Sheffield’s nightlife and the experiences of a British adolescent growing up in that era. Yet when the northern foursome stepped into the desert to record with Queens of the Stone Age’s singer Josh Homme, a shift in genre occurred with what was produced. The subject matter delved far deeper into dark and fantasy themes alongside the sound evolving to an overall irresistibly unsettling noise made available by the emergence of sonic and electric influences. All in all, the previous norm lines had been blurred and with this the band had evidently matured from their days of singing about nightclub bouncers and riot vans.
A running theme throughout the album’s songs is a structure of two choruses- an original and a form of repeat, both at the same pace and audible pitch, followed by a strong, amplified, third stanza. This is evident in ‘My Propeller’, ‘Crying Lightning’ and ‘Dance Little Liar’ to name a few. The effect of this is a powerful dramatizing of each song, helping to form an individual story of fantasy coming from the dark side of Turner’s imagination. Humbug rightly unsettles with this and its bleak lyrics, acting to provide the first theme shift in the Monkeys' repertoire, crucially showing them able to deviate from their punk indie-rock origins.
Humbug also acted as a prophetic foreshadower of what was to come next for the Sheffield band. Firstly, romantic ballads ‘Secret Door’ and ‘Cornerstone’ not only provided a break from the sinister overtones of the rest of the collection of songs, but also stood as a teaser for Turner’s cheesy acoustic love song potential. This used clearly in the band’s following album, ‘Suck It and See’, which was devoted to that style of music with romance and acoustic guitars reigning high throughout. Moreover, Humbug’s introduction of sonic sounds also became prominent for the Monkeys in time with the band’s hit fifth album ‘AM’ (2013), which consisted of songs using the sonic soundscape to its full potential, one such example being the classy, polished tune, ‘Arabella’. Thus, Humbug was crucial in laying the foundations for the next batch of music from the Arctic Monkeys and documented the various twists and turns to come in sound and topic.
So, although overlooked in the Monkeys' back catalogue in favour for the earlier albums or the mainstreamed commercially successful AM, Humbug’s significance to the career path of one of Britain’s most successful twenty-first century bands was quietly undeniable.