“You’re not from the Mohave Desert; you’re from High Green.” That seemed to be the general reaction to the sludgy, desert-rock of Arctic Monkeys’ last album, Humbug – as if Josh Homme‘s bludgeoning riffs had taken all we hold dear from Sheffield’s very own little tykes.
In truth, Humbug was actually a very good album (in parts, it was brilliant) but maybe, in retrospect, it was too drastic a change in direction for most fans. The good news with Suck It And See though is that, this time, the melodies are back in a big way.
Not that you’d know it from the first couple of tracks that have been released though. Brick By Brick, issued as a free download a few months ago, is a baffling, repetitive, faux-metal slugger of a song, with Matt Helders on lead vocals. It makes slightly more sense in the context of an album, but it’s still the weakest song here by a long way.
The first single Don’t Sit Down ‘Cos I’ve Moved Your Chair is better, although still pretty average by the band’s own standards. It’s not helped by a succession of nonsense lyrics (“run with scissors through a chip pan fire…do the macarena in the devil’s chair”) that make it sound like a rewrite of Spitting Image’s The Chicken Song.
Yet elsewhere, fears can be set aside. Suck It And See is far more accessible than Humbug, although it maintains that album’s sense of experimentation (the thrilling Library Pictures, to take one example). Alex Turner’s voice is almost unrecognisable from the youthful drawl on the band’s debut – it’s now a full on croon, seemingly heavily influenced by fellow Sheffielder Richard Hawley.
There’s a lot of Hawley here actually – the last four songs have his trademark wistful melancholy draped all over them, especially Piledriver Waltz (a re-recording of a track from Turner’s excellent soundtrack for Richard Ayodade’s film Submarine). Behind the jokey title, Love Is A Laserquest is blissfully sad, a mid-tempo ballad about trying to get over a former love (“When I’m pipe and slippers and rocking chair, singing dreadful songs about summer, Will I have found a better method of pretending you were just some lover?”).
Perhaps the most immediate track is The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala, a gloriously sunny anthem with a chorus that could be amongst the catchiest the band have ever written, although it’s run pretty close by the opening track She’s Thunderstorms, which features some impressive guitar work from Jamie Cook and another chorus that just floats into your head and stays there for weeks.
She’s Thunderstorms also highlights Turner’s new lyrical direction: finding ever more poetical ways to describe the girl of his dreams. From that song’s “She’s been loop the looping around my mind” to the title track’s impressive trick of comparing a girl to a can of soft drink and making it sound like the most romantic thing on earth (“You’re rarer than a can of dandelion & burdock, and those other girls are just post-mix lemonade”), it’s all a long way from catching a taxi back to Hillsborough.
So the odd mis-step aside, the death of Arctic Monkeys appears to have been greatly exaggerated. Rather, this is another intriguing evolution for one of the country’s great bands, and a shot in the arm for Britain’s rather moribund ‘indie guitar’ scene.