pe-arctic-monkeys-humbugThere is no denying that the embracing of the internet has had a profound effect on how both critics and fans interact with music. Just ask the Arctic Monkeys. The Sheffield, England band, comprised of vocalist/guitarist Alex Turner, guitarist Jamie Cook, bassist Nick O’Malley and drummer Matt Helders, were the product of immense amounts of hype for the demos that they had posted on their MySpace page in 2005. Within the matter of a few short months, the group went from being a relatively unknown local act to being one of the most talked about and praised English bands of the last decade, all before they even released their first album, 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. However, upon its release, Arctic Monkeys proved that there was something special about them that warranted the talk. The album was filled with Turner’s wry, observational lyrics, mostly about the English nightlife, and a band that was musically tight and sounded very comfortable playing together. A mere 18 months later, the group returned with 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare, on which they showed just how quickly they matured, despite a non-stop touring schedule and the departure of original bassist Andy Nichols.

During the next year, the prolific Turner teamed up with the Rascals Miles Kane and the London Symphony Orchestra to form the Last Shadow Puppets, a side project in which he worked to recapture the magic of British Baroque Pop of the 1960’s, particularly deriving influence from Scott Walker. Now, Arctic Monkeys have returned with Humbug, an album that proves that they are above the hype, and that they can continue to grow as a band while still keeping intact many of the qualities that made them so endearing in the first place.

One of the most immediate differences between Humbug and its two predecessors is the overall mood of the music. Working with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme for a majority of the tracks, the band has taken on a heavier sound than they did on their first albums. The guitars are now equipped with a healthy dose of reverb on the majority of the songs, and the bass and drums are more heavy and pronounced.  This does not necessarily mean that the group has completely lost its musical identity, quite the opposite. Turner and Cook still play off of each other like they always have, and O’Malley and Helders deliver a rhythm section that is just as tight as it has ever been. Lead single and album standout “Crying Lightning” perfectly exemplifies this, with a thumping, overdriven bass line complemented by excellent guitar work and rounded off with Helder’s tight drumming.  On the other side of the specter, perhaps taking a cue from the Last Shadow Puppets, there are also many moments on Humbug where the music takes on a slightly more orchestrated, psychedelic approach. The elegant “Secret Door” has an almost Eastern rhythm to it, while the guitars sound slightly more distanced, creating a sort of alluring lull to the track. In addition, there are so many subtleties to the music that a listener can easily find him or herself noticing things for the first time after several listens. It all makes for a musically pleasing album.

Turner’s lyrics have always been one of the Arctic Monkeys focal points, and he continues to impress on album number three. He has a way with imagery and detail that most other songwriters can only dream of, even though his subject matter is relatively standard. On “Cornerstone”, another stand out, Turner expresses his longing for a past lover when he asks another woman who reminds him of her “if I could call her your name,” thereby ruining any chance with said woman. One can easily picture the turmoil and heartache that the narrator is feeling through these simple lines and the way in which Turner delivers them. His voice is showing great signs of maturity while retaining its distinctive sound. Lyrically, the album is a far cry from the days of discussing how hard it is to get into a night club. However, these issues are no longer of great concern to Turner, as the tracks cover serious subjects such as love, loss, and longing. With his talents, however, he is able to tackle them with a great sense of effortlessness.

Of course, Humbug is not without its weaker points. Some may find the album too drastically different from Whatever People Say I Am… and Favourite Worst Nightmare. They can easily be turned off by the band’s new sound or the fact that the lyric’s subject matter has gradually shifted. Additionally, some of the tracks on the album are easily outshined by others. For example, nestled between “Crying Lightning” and “Secret Door” is “Dangerous Animals”, a track that is catchy in its own right, but is easily overshadowed by two of the albums strongest songs. However, the fact remains that there is hardly any filler anywhere on the album, and the fact that good songs are outdone by stronger ones is hardly a criticism that can hamper the effect of the album as a whole.

While it may lack the immediacy of their first two albums, this is an album that will gradually grow on you, Humbug proves that the Arctic Monkeys are a band who can outlive the hype machine and continue to produce quality records. The band has grown musically and has shown that they are not afraid to take risks, while still retaining their trademark sound. Make no mistake; Humbug is another solid addition to their catalogue, and proof that the band has immense staying power.

(Image credit: Stereogum.com)

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