The thought of Alex Turner sitting, slightly slumped, in a panoramic American hotel suite – quiff hanging precariously as he drunkenly reflects on the whirlwind surrounding him - is a real possibility these days. It’s an image that fits AM, Arctic Monkeys' fifth full release. Sheffield is long gone, and Los Angeles, with its grandiose, sprawling landscape, is here to stay.
The record feels like the work of a rock band heading to the stratosphere. Early comparisons with Oasis now seem laughable. They’ve stepped beyond them in so many ways musically and lyrically, on the cusp of breaking America (already topping the charts), with a sound so evolved from their first.
Game changer “R U Mine”, originally released as a standalone single, introduces a Black Sabbath edge and sparsity that flows throughout the album. Written at the end of the Suck It And See tour, it led the band to explore what lies “the other side of that door”, says Turner.
This exploration laid the groundwork for the anthemic “Do I Wanna Know”, now their first worldwide breakthrough single. Dark and brooding, Matt Helders' drums reduce to a hip-hop metronome, Jamie Cook’s guitars menace subtly, but unlike “Crying Lightening”, the track doesn’t hinge on one guitar switch. Instead everything builds together, underpinned by Turner’s drawling vocals.
His lyrics typify the undercurrent of frustration felt throughout: a window into the life of a single man trying to find his feet – outwardly cocksure, but perennially in tatters. ‘Do you want me crawling back to you?’ he ponders, befitting the swagger of the track. “One For The Road” references the same feelings, “So we all go back to yours and you sit and talk to me on the floor. There's no need to show me round baby, I feel like I've been in here before”. It a little how you’d imagine Neil Young in his teens - the bass line and beat reminiscent of “Heart Of Gold”.
And although notably refreshing r’n’b arrangements engulf the more playful sounding “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High", ‘satisfaction’ still ‘seems like a distant memory’, to quote Turner’s lyric on “R U Mine”.
If the band are living the life, they are doing so knowing it is in their own fake tale of Los Angeles.
But despite this, tracks like “Arabella”, directly channelling Queens Of The Stone Age and Black Sabbath’s “War Pig”, highlight the best of Turner’s new found, overtly sexual, confidence.His wordplay remains consistently verbose yet accessible, recalling attempts to lure a girl of his desires whose ‘lips are like a galaxy’s edge’.
Ultimately, AM works because the band are living again, in a new environment that gets Turner thinking. It’s fresh, in the same way the band reflected on teen life in Sheffield to spin their debut to success, they’re now doing the same from inside rock’s goldfish bowl.
Let’s just hope Turner doesn’t implode behind the aviator shades, he already seems on the edge, even if “No. 1 Party Anthem” proves he still maintains the ironic, introspective sting. But if the band can keep things together, the sound, and success, is theirs for the taking.