Good rock ‘n roll—face punching, earth-shaking, real rock ‘n roll—is hard to come by these days. Most of the good post-punk bands of the early aughts are either dead (The Rakes) or mediocre (The Strokes), and the only band that seems to be able to pull together a critically and commercially successful rock album around here nowadays is the Black Keys.
AM, the newest record by the Arctic Monkeys, should change all of that. The first of their post-Homme albums to incorporate the youthful energy that made the British band so popular in the first place, AM is an astonishingly good record from a band that seems well-positioned to finally break out of on this side of the pond.
For starters, AM is a bit of a departure from its predecessor, 2011’s Suck It And See. While solid, that record felt forced, too sardonic and too serious for its own good. AM is an improvement in almost every way—the tunes are tighter, the mood is more genuine, and the album is more cohesive. A dark, seductive tone carries the day—confused and full of bad decisions, Alex Turner’s lyrics play like a tragic evening of fumbled relationships and sexual frustration, ensuring that AM will hit close to home for singles as the months grow colder.
The band have paired the darker lyrics with harder, almost R&B-tinged arrangements that make quite a formidable thud—think Humbug-era stoner rock mixed with some vague 90’s west coast vibes and the distinctly British earnestness of their classic debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Perhaps the song that best displays this sound is “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” which features the overriding darkness of “Crying Lightning,” a bass line and guitar riff that sound like they could be in a Snoop song, and Turner’s spitfire lyricism.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Arctics album without a ballad or two, and AM’s got two of them back-to-back: “No. 1 Party Anthem” and “Mad Sounds.” Both are stunningly beautiful reminders that this band can pen a tearjerker with the best of ‘em. Perhaps the most telling emotional moment on AM, though, is on “I Wanna Be Yours,” where Turner croons lyrics from a John Cooper Clarke poem over an achingly gorgeous, simple melody. It’s the perfect ending to a fantastic album, but it’s also a neat trick they couldn’t have possibly pulled off five years ago. Like most of AM, the song speaks to the increasing maturity of this band and its nearly obsessive desire to get better. With that attitude, Arctic Monkeys are just getting started.