Who the fuck are Arctic Monkeys? It’s something I’ve been mulling over these past few weeks, and is incidentally, a question that the band themselves once proposed to us way back in 2006 with the release of their second EP, the audaciously titled…er, ‘Who the Fuck are Arctic Monkeys?’
It was the first release of theirs that I actually parted cash for, and is in fact, the only physical release of theirs that I have ever actually owned. A nice shiny 10″ vinyl, that due to its length, was ineligible to sit in the singles chart. Had it been shorter, then lead track The View from the Afternoon would have surely been their third straight number one single.
At the time (2005-2006) Arctic Monkeys were riding on the crest of a wave. “To the toppermost of the poppermost” as The Beatles would’ve said. It really did seem like nothing could stop them. You all know the spiel; working class lads from the midlands form a band, write some good tunes, make a demo, put it on the internet, play some gigs, see their popularity grow through word of mouth, release an overly hyped, highly anticipated debut album and sell one or two records rather quite quickly. Twas a bleedin’ sensation, if truth been known. And I really wasn’t that bothered.
Sure, as sure, I downloaded debut album Whatever People say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, but I never really listened to it. I caught ’em live once, Reading 2005, and I enjoyed the spectacle. I even thought that A Certain Romance was the best British song since The Libertine’s Time for Heroes – but I didn’t get caught up in it all, and I didn’t think that they would last.
But I was wrong. Or too stubborn. Because here we are, April 2012, 6 years to the month after I first purchased an Arctic Monkeys record and I’ve had something of an epiphany, something that a large number of Brits had known right from the very beginning, that Arctic Monkeys, are a national treasure.
I should say now that I have admired Alex Turner ever since (Arctic Monkey side project with Miles Kane) The Last of the Shadow Puppets (2008). I adore that record. It is charming, it is tuneful, and in my ears it is near faultless. Obviously it is retrospective, but there is no denying that Alex Turner is a talented songwriter. Upon hearing it I reviewed my thoughts on Arctic Monkeys and sought out a copy of their second LP, Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007). It certainly had its moments, but I was still flicking between tracks. It wasn’t until 2009’s Humbug that I actually thought they’d made an album proper. Humbug is a cohesive listen from start to finish, and I’d decided upon first listen, that like some of my most favoured bands, Arctic Monkeys have got better with each album. But I still didn’t love them. That is, until now, whereby all I want to listen to is their fourth and finest record, last year’s Suck It and See. A joy from start to finish.
Suck It and See speaks to me. It sings to me. There is a hypnotic tone to the guitars that seem to chime throughout the record. The simple riffs on tracks like The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala, Piledriver Waltz and That’s Where You’re Wrong work to entrap me, like sirens calling me to the rocks. And the hypnosis doesn’t end there. Alex Turner now sings as if he has lived a little. His lyrics are more personal and he delivers them with more maturity. Gone is the much admired Sheffield accent, Turner now croons. And such words! “I poured my aching heart into a pop song, I couldn’t get the hang of poetry, that’s not a skirt, girl, that’s a sawn-off shotgun, and I can only hope you’ve got it pointed at me”. Sheer delightfulness. The imagery he invokes through his lyrics is frequently spellbinding. Lines such as “I heard the news that you’re planning, to shoot me out of a cannon,” or “bite the lightning and tell me how it tastes, kung fu fighting on your roller skates.” No longer are the band concerned with “kids who scrap with pool cues in their hands”, and with this change in lyrical subject matter, one feels that the Monkey’s have finally matured. They have moved from adolescence into young adulthood, and they are rocking.