My stars, has it really been over five years since the most infuriatingly overhyped debut of all-time was released in the UK? I remember reading for MONTHS leading up to it’s release how Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was going to alter the universe of rock and roll in irreversible ways. Now, as I sit here I can honestly say that if I were to poll all of my friends, more than half of them would have no idea who or what the Arctic Monkeys are. Nice job NME magazine. Your writers named the first Arctic Monkeys record the fifth best British Album of all-time the week it came out. On that same list, The Beatles Revolver came in tenth.
So naturally, being the curious lad that I am, I listened to Whatever.. to see what all the hubbub was about. Then I listened again. And again. Six or seven times, all the way through, and I didn’t get it at all. Just a bunch of garbage that sounded like The Libertines demos that didn’t make the cut for Up The Bracket (number 10 on NME’s list). I was disappointed, to say the least. I was promised a savior for rock ‘n’ roll in the guise of four young punks from England, and what I got was a digital trash can full of wasted hours and broken dreams. It was on this day that my hatred of Arctic Monkeys began.
And so it continued for many years. Favourite Worst Nightmare…awful. Humbug? Even worse. I started to think that maybe everyone in the UK is stupid. I mean, we Americans assume they’re all smart because of the accents, but what if every person over there is a complete ignoramus with a great accent (Mr. Cleese, you would be the exception, of course)?
Obviously I don’t really think that about the British, but when you see how popular Arctic Monkeys are over there, it’s crazy. Like Justin Beiber over here. And much like Beiber, the fandom doesn’t seem earned, but bought. If I had a huge record company and PR people behind me, I think I could turn any band into a internet sensation, too. But I don’t, so I just get to complain about them.
Anyway, the point of writing all of the above is to make sure you understand that I am NOT, in any way, a fan of Arctic Monkeys. However, I think that Suck It And See is a really good record. It kills me to admit it, as I have been adamantly against them for so long, but Alex Turner and co. have finally put together a full record that I can not only tolerate, but enjoy.
I think the success of the album can be contributed 99% to Turner. I downloaded the new Monkeys at the same time I got his solo EP for the soundtrack to the film Submarine, which I like even more. On the solo album, all the songs are just Turner and his guitar, which I imagine is how he writes all his songs. The three previous albums that Arctic Monkeys put out all seem to be collaborative with eveyone in the band, so much so that it was detrimental to the quality of the music. On the new release, it feels like Turner really took control and guided the band to see that his vision was realized.
Not to take anything away from the other bandmembers, because I think they’re all talented in their own ways, but as a band, they never seemed to be on the same page. They were more like a jazz band where eveyone was doing their own thing and hoping for the best, instead of moving forward as a cohesive unit. Certainly they aren’t the first band to fall victim to that arrangement, and they’re definitely young enough that they still have time to correct it. And I think they’re on the right track now.
One thing that has helped the songwriting is that Turner moved to NYC with his girlfriend, and wrote most of the songs off the new record there. Being away from England, where he can’t walk out his front door without being bombarded probably helped his mind free up a bit. It also allowed him to calm down some. Most of the songs on Suck It And See can be categorized as britpop, but it definitely still has a little of that swagger that their debut displayed. But he seems more concerned with human emotions and his own relationships than he does with tales of drunken debauchery. Again, a step in the right direction.
A lot of people I’ve read lately have said that this record finds a happy medium between Humbug and the first two records. I don’t agree with that sentiment, but I get what they’re saying. In my mind, this record is a huge leap forward, at least for Turner (honestly, the rest of the band may not be around much longer anyway-I mean, they live in the UK, Alex lives in NYC, and we all know how that works out). But, I think this lyric from the title track does kind of hit all the points in Arctic Monkeys short career into four lines:
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 aimed at me
This record really surprised me. I originally picked it up just to hear it and validate my earlier criticism of the band. Unable to criticize this record like I had the others, I am forced to admit that I may be wrong about the Arctic Monkeys after all. Or, this could be a one-time fluke. Either way, I recommend Suck It And See for both fans AND haters.