Bad transatlantic accent aside, AM was a spectacular turning point for Arctic Monkeys. Though they were, by 2013, well-established as one of the UK’s biggest ever rock bands, it was only with a fifth studio album that the Sheffield outfit became the phenomenon they are – in the USA and further afield today.
Look at their concert history and you’ll see the jump yourself: on the Suck It And See tour in 2011, they played the Hollywood Bowl underneath headliners TV On The Radio. By 2013, they were topping the bill in American arenas, and headlining Glastonbury at home.
One unfortunate side effect to this success (in addition to that mangled Cali-Yorkshire accent) was the public thirst for a repeat of the sounds on AM. With 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, Arctic Monkeys divided fans, with many wishing ‘another AM’ had taken its place. But if the band’s six albums have shown us anything, it’s that AM7 — slated for release this year — is going to be something completely different again.
Made up of sonic gyrations and clipped spaghetti western riffs, AM came with a wardrobe of slinky rocker garb and a be-quiffed Alex Turner cosplaying as a heartthrob Teddy boy. Launching more than a year before the full unveiling in 2012 with the electric ‘R U Mine?’, the blues-rock era of Arctic Monkeys was to be their most mainstream success to date: the album’s firecracker opener and second single ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ has far exceeded one billion streams on Spotify alone.
It’s tempting to yearn for a repeat, for AM is truly a monster of an album. With its rotating cast of horny protagonists and their nocturnal shenanigans, Arctic Monkeys presented a lusciously produced, vaguely western, no-skips rock album that transcended the indie band label and confirmed the band — to many, if not to all — as being one of the greatest of all time.
Even though they had more international eyes and ears on them by 2013, Arctic Monkeys had of course always been this good. Alex Turner, Matt Helders, Jamie Cook, Nick O’Malley (and founding former bassist Andy Nicholson) have been playing together since the early noughties. In all six of their albums released to date, true genius shines; a big part of the reason for this is that Arctic Monkeys have never repeated themselves.
Like AM, their 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not operated at night. Unlike AM, it explored relatable locals at provincial nightclubs and bars through dry, almost offhand vocals and spacious garage production. In short, Whatever People Say I Am… is West Street Live while AM is pure Hollywood. In the interim, the band tried on many guises.
Favourite Worst Nightmare, which followed a year after their debut, upped the shine – and the sex appeal. More disparate a collection than its Leadmill-dwelling predecessor, this is the house party era: jauntier, edgier and bouncier, its upbeat atmosphere purposefully poor at obscuring the lingering darkness underneath.
By 2009 and with the release of Humbug, they’d reached the big leagues, this time working with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. Partly due to his production and a band growing in confidence, Humbug is louche and debonair; delivered casually even as it’s tautly produced. Suck It And See, which dropped three years later, demonstrates the least recognisable shifts, but listen closely and you’ll hear them in structural experimentation.
After AM dropped, things changed forever for Arctic Monkeys and their fans. Relieved from the financial concerns of creating a successful album, now they could make any old album they fancied. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, a thoroughly artistic venture, was widely praised by critics even as it was panned by many fans. (A dichotomy arising, perhaps, from the suggestion (and later withdrawal) by Alex Turner that it was a solo venture).
But just because it isn’t AM doesn’t mean that it’s a bad album. As we’ve seen from the rest of their discography, Arctic Monkeys are incapable of making a stinker, no matter how far they stray from High Green. Tranquility Base… is a smart lounge record helmed by a digressing wordsmith who shares plenty of characteristics with Alex Turner’s on-stage persona: it is a fantastic album unfairly viewed by the light of AM’s attributes rather than the unique glow of its own.
The only hints of what we’re to get next have come from drummer Matt Helders, who noted in an interview earlier this year: “It kinda like picks up where [Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino] left off musically.” Not long afterwards, he told BBC Radio 5 Live that Arctic Monkeys “always do try and do something a bit different”. A three-year live hiatus broken last week (9 August) with the first show in a new tour at Istanbul’s Zorlu Center gave us no new hints: the band kept their cards close to their chest by deploying a set-list of career bests.
With a seventh album, we’ll likely get something totally new again. But whatever it is – even if it’s ambient avant-garde – it’s going to be recognisably Arctic Monkeys. Though there have been profound changes – the most dramatic of them taking place between AM and Tranquility Base… – it is still easy to hear the same four men in the material.
For one thing, the boys still thoroughly enjoy lampooning knuckleheads: a natural continuation from narrating the kitchen sink of it all, even when it’s set in outer space. On ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’, it is cringe live acts that feel the slicing of Turner’s tongue (“you’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham”), on Favourite Worst Nightmare’s stand out ‘Teddy Picker’ he turns on those who yearn for fame and across 2009’s Humbug, cheaters and perverts bear the brunt. AM cut ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ is a self-explanatory eye roll from a girl who’s over it, and Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is preoccupied primarily with a futuristic chancer.
Turner’s lyrics shift in subject matter but remain quite the gourmet word salad, and in the instruments, too, you can hear this is the band you grew up with. No matter how expensive the recording engineers they work with become, no mix can obscure the agile flair of Matt Helders’ drumming.
As Arctic Monkeys take up their instruments for the first time in years this summer (for a run of festival appearances, including a headline slot at Reading and Leeds at the end of August), we’re likely to hear some new music.
And since a new album still looks likely in the next few months, a single is probably imminent too. As we head into this new era, it’s important to remember that whatever we’re going to get won’t be anything like what you’re predicting. Besides: predicting, wishing and hoping will only take the joy out of the grand reveal anyway.
Trust Arctic Monkeys. Whatever they make next will be electrifying, interesting — and different from what’s come before. It’s only what we’ve come to expect.