Arctic Monkeys - Humbug

For a band that has produced some the biggest indie dance floor fillers of all time, there is very little here that will ring familiar.

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Released 25 Aug 2009 | Domino | By Mark Wilkins | Rating: 4
Arctic Monkeys - Humbug

Few bands of recent times have been able to deliver on the hype as confidently and consistently as the Arctic Monkeys. From the stunningly confident debut 'Whatever People Say...' to the edgier yet equally self-assured follow-up 'Favourite Worst Nightmare', to taking on open air concerts in front of fifty thousand plus as if it was simply stroll in the park. This is a band that don't seem to take any notice of what others may perceive as pressure.

All this led to them being hailed as the voice of a generation; the debut album's accurate portrayal of teenage Britain gave way to a slightly more sinister outlook by the time the sequel had arrived. But the common thread across both albums meant that many of the tracks on the second album continued to highlight Alex Turner's ability to pick subjects that people could easily relate to. But the band, and in particular Turner, wanted nothing to do with being called a 'voice of a generation' and have always seemed to play on the fact they are anything but. The fact that little of 'Humbug''s feel, style, content has been leaked, bigged up or shouted about by the band or anyone connected with them is nicely in keeping with their reputation. And when you first listen to 'Humbug' it doesn’t take long to realise we are in new territory. For a band that has produced some the biggest indie dance floor fillers of all time, there is very little here that will ring familiar. It's hard to imagine that the mainstream crowd that have tagged along for the ride so far will be as keen on what is very much a darker, heavier, sexier and matured sound.

Before we go on, lets talk about Turner. There are frequent points throughout, where his lyrics are nothing short of extraordinary. An album full of stunning lines: "what came first the chicken or the dickhead?" ('Pretty Visitors'), "with folded arms you occupy the bench like toothache" ('Crying Lightning'), "sharpen the heel of your boot, press it in my chest and to my knees you do promote me" ('Dangerous Animal') are just a few of the standout lines from a songwriter who seems to simply excel time after time. Gone are the stories of nights out in Sheffield, replaced with tales and characters drawn perfectly, so much so that the listener may have to take a few listens to get beneath the true skin of the songs. His voice, still able to deliver lines at hip hop speeds, now can also deliver a rather lovely croon. Which means the slower tracks here no longer suffer from what perhaps was a lack of confidence vocally. The experience with The Last Shadow Puppets seems to have benefited him greatly. The other hero on this record is drummer Matt Helders. If there is a better sticks man in the world right now, I'd like to see him. He literally drives the album along and on tracks like 'Pretty Visitors' he easily outdoes his work on 'Brianstorm', with a display of drumming that is exhilarating, odd and utterly barmy.

As for the darker sound, well, yes you can hear influences from the likes of producer Josh Homme's Queens Of The Stone Age, but also from bands like The Coral; there are break-downs throughout the album, that echo the Scouse band's less conventional and 'anything goes' cut-loose attitude. And the band's heroes Pulp seem to have left their spirit on some of Turner's lyrics, all seedy and suggestive. Lead single 'Crying Lightning', a confectionary innuendo-filled song, with an all together different swagger to any previous Monkeys track is a real grower, with its a twanging guitars, huge bass line and Turner's understated vocal over the initially retrained chorus. But by the time the chorus has arrived for a second time it's mutated and grown into something huge.

The album is so varied that we could be here all day explaining where the paths and crossroads lead us. What we can tell you is that 'Dangerous Animal' is really quite brilliant. 'Secret Door' starts out sounding sweet and acoustic, but within 24 seconds, it's filled with typical fast-paced lyrical genius before changing again into slow, hypnotic almost sweet chorus and back again to yet more tongue twisters. Other stand outs like 'Fire And The Thud', with beautiful harmonies that swamp the song, are in close relation to The Last Shadow Puppets, minus the string section.

The real plaudits though belong to 'Cornerstone'. A rather scarily perfect tale of going on the pull via a number of bizarrely named pubs, quite possibly the best thing they have ever done. It's not an uplifting tune or lyric, however. Some will be disappointed by the lack of what may be perceived as singles, or anything to resemble the sound and cocksure joy of the band's debut and follow up. But here is a group that are learning as they go along, developing and growing before our very eyes, and my, how they've grown.