By Elliot Alpern, Senior Arts Editor
Published September 10, 2013
“Baby, we both know,” sing the rest of the Arctic Monkeys in AM’s first single “Do I Wanna Know?,” and frontman Alex Turner answers: “That the nights were mainly made / For saying things that you can’t say tomorrow day.” The line rolls and tumbles over a raw, edgy bass, heralding with it the end of those happy-go-lucky Arctic Monkeys of old. No, AM isn’t for the sunrise or the cheery morning — this is a soundtrack for those stumbling hours between come-up and hangover. If this latest effort from the British outfit proves anything, it’s that the Arctic Monkeys know a thing or two about nights-turned-mornings on the town.
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After the raw, grinding introduction of “Do I Wanna Know?,” the AM (see how that works?) get back to rock essentials with “R U Mine?” Yes, the question-names are getting cumbersome (and don’t end until “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”), but if any song on the record screams basic, good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, this is it. It feels like getting to the club after downtown midnight traffic — “R U Mine?” releases all of the tension carefully accrued by “Do I Wanna Know?”
“One For The Road,” the next track, is one of two on AM to bear the fingerprint of Josh Homme, singer for Queens of the Stone Age — and the influence really shows. Those soft, crooning vocals pick up the chord of tension reverberating throughout this album, giving the illusion of a night spent hopping from dig to dig. Here, let’s give Josh Homme a ride. He’s going the same way.
“Knee Socks,” toward the tail end of the album, is the other Homme collaboration and bears the catchiest guitar hook in the entire effort. It would fit right at home on the latest QOTSA release, but goes to show that Turner can really adapt his singing to any style. Yes, that voice tends to sound repetitive if you leave AM on repeat and tune out, but it’s not so much the same as subtly different. Sort of like that drug-tinged trip to the late-late night club, with each hour altered in a slightly different way.
Speaking of which — the other single on the album, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?,” comes as a soft, crooning lull in the midnight festivities. At 2:41, the track is the shortest on AM, and it’s a bit out of place from the raw, grinding tone of the album — but nonetheless it’s a grooving little number.
AM only staggers, briefly, in the hazy middle of the record. “No. 1 Party Anthem” begins attractively enough, seemingly a ballad on par with those longer efforts of yore, but it gets tedious (especially considering the driving rocker “I Want It All” that comes directly before). Likewise, the following “Mad Sounds” is a woozy, syrupy-sweet ballad, fit even with the stereotypical “Ooh la la la’s” to brighten up the chorus. Who knows — maybe “Mad Sounds” represents that oversweet cocktail you chug too quickly, and the trip to the porcelain headrest that may soon follow.
Regardless, AM grinds out enough smoky, slinking hits to be the band’s best release since the debut effort, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Just be careful as you load it into the car stereo, or you may find yourself pulled into the kind of night you’ll never remember, but never forget.