If 2018’s lunar project ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ throws long-time Arctic Monkeys fans into disarray, Sheffield icons ditch fat and rock for the sound of a louche lounge, ‘The Car’ is unlikely to be recaptured. ”Many defectors.” But on the band’s seventh album Needs No Introduction, you feel masterful composer Alex Turner has plenty of fun to care about. Its ten sumptuous soft-rock tracks sound like the album the 36-year-old has always aspired to make — for better or for worse.
In the past, Alex the cinematic toyed with the world of cinema. In “AM” he referred to Scorsese. Via the “Tranquility…” campaign, he became a bearded director himself, brandishing analog cameras on stage and in videos. In 2011, Richard Ayoade’s Inie’s Submarine was recorded, but despite there being no film to accompany it, The Car is the crew’s most soundtrack-like work to date, flowing together in one long motion that Bridget Samuels made to cohesive lush orchestral arrangements that adorn it.
From the haunting escalation of ‘There’d Better Be A Mirrorball’ through the Moody Blues rhythm of the main track, which reverberates like distant thunder, to the chords on ‘Hello You’, which seem to wrap around Matt Helders’ steady drums, the apes have not It never looks more evocative (even in “Anything Goes Sculptures,” whose creepy buildup harks back to Humbug’s weirder moments). Hints are that it’s still the rock group you’d hear – “I’m not quite where I think I think” Stevie Wonder’s “myths” suggest and their smash hit “Why did you only call me when you’re high”? ‘, while Jimmy Cook’s flashy guitar blasts evoke excitement at the epic ending to “Body Paint”—but the band and orchestra blend seamlessly, and they never feel intimidated together.
Examine its text and the wheels of the car will begin to loosen. Alex’s dazzling wordplay has always been the monkey’s golden arrow. Here, though, his lyrics are so thick and elusive that they conflict with the sincerity of some songs and feel hurt in the end. “Come over here and hug your friend,” he sings on “Jet Skis On the Moat.” “It’s okay if you want to cry.” The poignant sentiment evokes images of male friendship or discussions of mental health, but is overtaken by the “smoke, pajama pants, and Subbuteo mantle” aesthetic. One line from “Hello You” says, “With this winding chapter coming to an end and leaving us in a thoughtful little daze, this electric warrior’s parade won’t burn any more rubber down that street.” Good songwriters don’t make it all clear to the listener, sure, and Alex’s ability to keep up with that line makes his voice vague over and over again. However, in parts of “The Car,” the style takes over the storytelling and leaves some songs blank.
As many of their stadium band’s contemporaries became comfortable releasing different versions of the same album twice every decade, slowly crawling toward the old mode, the Arctic Monkeys’ eagerness to explore new styles is commendable; Expanding their repertoire will serve them better in the long run than hitting updated versions of ‘Teddy Picker’ with each release, even if some fans prefer it. While the “car” should give them a chance to do their next Bond idea, is it likely to reach the resounding success of their early material? Mostly not. But after all, the journey is more important than the destination anyway.
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