The Sheffield band’s latest exists in some kind of kitsch pocket universe where people sit around in vintage Gucci watching Roger Moore James Bond movies for days on end, subsisting purely on irony
There’s a term used frequently in American sports journalism and commentary that refers to a particular player who is so successful that they come to define the era in which they played. That term is ‘generational talent’, and if we were to take that and apply it to British music, you’d have to say that Arctic Monkeys‘ Alex Turner is a ‘generational talent’ too.
Come to think of it, there’s an argument to be made that Turner ranks amongst the very best songwriters of all time, isn’t there? His commitment to a heightened post-John Cooper Clarke psychedelic realism has led to some of the most potent storytelling, and most hilarious non sequiturs, of the past 20 years. Then, of course, you have his songs. He can write Black Sabbath-aping rawk rippers (Arabella), wide-eyed garage rock (I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor), supple and spacey lounge pop (Star Treatment), and pretty much everything in between. He’s yet to attempt grime, but he’d probably be just fine.
However, despite Arctic Monkeys selling every ticket to every gig they’ve played in the past 15 years, Turner’s standing amongst his original fans seems to have fallen in recent times, especially since the release of their last album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Amongst critics, they’re still doing fine, but with fans, they’ve had a rough time. If you take a look on Rate Your Music, you’ll notice that across the world the view is that Arctic Monkeys have gotten worse with each album, with their best being the debut, and their worst being Tranquility Base.
How that information makes you feel will tell you whether you’ll enjoy The Car or not, because this isn’t a ‘return to form’ or ‘going back to their roots’, but a continuation of the trajectory they’ve been on since they first formed in high school back in 2002. And it’s important to note how similar some of the songs from this new era are to things Stereolab have done before. Stereolab are of courde a vastly underrated groop, much like their Brummie acolytes Broadcast (RIP Trish Keenan). If you’re a fan of either of those, buy this album immediately. You needn’t finish the review.
The Car, the band’s seventh album (and is the exact same length as their second album Favourite Worst Nightmare to the second) is another step further into the cinematic world they created on Tranquility Base, and many of the influences Turner first displayed with The Last Shadow Puppets are still present and correct, from Burt Bacharach and early Scott Walker, David Bowie and even the Moody Blues to Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone and a whole bench of Gallic pop. How the rest of the band – Matt Helders, Nick O’Malley and Jamie Cook – feel about the transition from rock band to whatever it is they are now is largely immaterial. They know a generational talent when they see one.
The first track There’d Better Be A Mirrorball kicks off the album in a way that you’d expect a Stereolab or Broadcast album to open, all haunted strings and smoky atmospherics, seemingly constructing a marble palace for the rest of the record to just exist in if it so pleases. Then I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am bulldozes through all that fine architecture with a squelchy riff that sounds eerily like a Lenny Kravitz tune. Across the rest of the album, strange things occur: Sculptures Of Anything Goes aims for slow-burning, crime-thriller end-credits number and mostly succeeds, and Jet Skis On The Moat splits the difference between hilarious soft soul pastiche and earnest cry for help.
Another key track is Big Ideas, which is surprisingly serious, despite the overbearing string arrangements. The absolute highlight of the set is Mr Schwartz, which sounds like Stereolab doing a Bond theme, and that is followed by album closer Perfect Sense, which sounds a little too much like INXS‘ Never Tear Us Apart. What else? Curtis Mayfield is all over Hello You, and Body Paint has some very juicy guitars in the George Harrison style. The title track is the closest the Arctic Monkeys have ever got to sounding like Scott Walker, and they’ve been very close before. Oh, and Big Ideas is very nice too.
All in all, this an incredibly silly album, but it’s wildly entertaining. It doesn’t make one lick of sense, but it exists in some kind of kitsch pocket universe where people sit around in vintage Gucci watching Roger Moore James Bond movies for days on end, not eating or drinking but subsisting purely on irony and the very notion that nothing needs to make sense. Christopher Lee with a third nipple? Excellent. This band have continuously captivating for nearly two decades now, and Alex Turner must be a generational talent. So clearly this is a great album. What else did you expect?