I first heard of the Arctic Monkeys in 2006 during that tremendous moment in the spotlight when debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was named on the Top Five Albums of All Time by Britain’s New Musical Express. Of course the album was nowhere close to this upper-echelon of musical accomplishments- in fact, artists such as The Killers, My Chemical Romance, and Coldplay rounded out the list. However, this didn’t stop the Arctic Monkeys from practically parasailing in on the lethal hurricane of hype generated by the Strokes- a Perfect Storm of Exposure and Planetary Alignment deadset on making these guys the next Beatles, Elvis, and Jesus Christ combined while simultaneously blowing up the internet. When removed from the thunderous PR and examined within a vacuum, the band was revealed to be a ridiculously talented group of musicians lead by 19 year old Alex Turner (“Him?” the doubters cried. “He is but a child!”). Over time, the outrageous level of exposure surrounding the Arctic Monkeys threatened to even transcend the group as a whole. If there was ever a band that seemed fated to evaporate, it was these guys. The thing is though- Alex Turner and the guys never really went away. They quickly followed their debut album in 2007 with Favourite Worst Nightmare, another catchy affair seemingly made to set in stone the argument that, at the very least, the band was capable of replicating themselves. Humbug arrived in 2009- a distinctly darker, murkier, and ultimately looser collection of songs. The new Messiahs of Britpop seemed to be more focused, developed, and dare I say… grown up. I was curious where they would take their sound next.
Alas I was apparently one of the few who found Humbug to be an interesting direction for the Arctic Monkeys. Because, two years later, here we are with Suck It and See and it’s pretty clear the band is choosing to ignore any artistic statement they made on that previous record. An smothering exercise in ironic kitsch, Suck It and See is the “That’s what she said” of contemporary music. The hardcore Monkeys fans will no doubt fawn over this record. But as a less rabid member of the fanbase, I find Turner’s songwriting excesses grating when left unbridled. He is obviously an exciting wordsmith highly capable of delivering acidic, edgy lyrics- the three previous LPs are peppered with dynamic examples of this. But listening to Suck It and See is akin to watching that forgotten 1991 Bruce Willis/Damon Wayans actioner, The Last Boy Scout- rampant quips, one-liners, and witty turns of phrases reign paramount against a mind-numbing background of sound and fury. Only The Last Boy Scout was a knowing self-parody of the action genre, while Suck It and See seems to exist out of pure defiance. Perhaps the band was attempting to release Suck It and See as an indicator that the mellow edginess of the Humbug exercise was all a dream. Musically, though, they are as good as ever. The rhythmic hooks boast the usual combination of harsh and delicate romanticism while guitarist Jamie Cook is exceptionally lean and efficient. Several tracks on Suck It and See, such as album opener “She’s Thunderstorms”, “Piledriver Waltz”, and “Black Treacle” stand out as some of the band’s finer moments. But Turner’s lyrical indulgences become inevitably distracting. Turner is no stranger to flirtacious theatrics- but he is inadvertently spoofing himself here. And too often Suck It and See will drip with smarmy irony as a result (“Call up to listen to the voice of reason/and got his answering machine,” Turner sings on “Reckless Serenade”). A little of this winky self-awareness goes a long way, a lot of it can become borderline suffocating. So where does this leave the Arctic Monkeys? Cheekiness aside, Suck It and See should undoubtedly be more successful than Humbug. It is more fun in the traditional sense- plus these songs are bound to kill when translated to the live circuit. And it’s important to remember, considering their discography, just how young Turner and Co. actually are (twenty-five!). Still though, I’m a little disheartened by the direction of this latest effort and hope it is not indicative of an impending trend. The Arctic Monkeys are too good to become a novelty act. And this is a statement I can make with zero irony.
STANDOUT TRACKS INCLUDE: