Thursday, 5 June 2014
Rate The Albums: Arctic Monkeys
I'm bringing back an old feature of mine for summer 2014 as I take a look at some of my favourite artists and rank their discography from best to worst. My previous lists are still available to view on the site- they include Bright Eyes, Elliott Smith, Death Cab For Cutie and Bloc Party.
I'm kicking off things with one of the biggest bands in the world right now, who are set to hit Dublin in just over a weeks time, Sheffield's finest export Arctic Monkeys. Since arriving in style with the fastest selling debut album in British history back in 2006, the band have continually evolved throughout the course of their 5 studio releases with varying results. Last year's AM was celebrated as perhaps the peak of the group's powers as they topped various Best Of 2013 lists and walked away with numerous awards both at home and abroad for their work, but is it in fact the band's greatest moment? Here's my own countdown:
5. Suck It And See (2011)
The band's fourth album is perhaps their most overlooked- from the nearly blank cover and lack of major promotion to it's straightforward vintage rock style, Suck It And See seemed to be released with more of a whimper than a bang. Perhaps these reasons have led to the record earning dubious honour of being the Monkeys most underrated too, and unfairly so- standing at just 40 minutes short, Suck It is indeed a minimized, simpler rock release than the rest of the band's catalogue but it's also a wonderfully smooth, assured collection of classic rock'n'roll songs that hinted towards the style Alex Turner and the lads would embrace on AM last year with greater conviction and purpose.
Best Tracks: She's Thunderstorms/Black Treacle/The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala
4. Humbug (2009)
In contrast to Suck It, the release of Humbug in 2009 was met with strong interest for it's controversial departure from the signature sound that the Sheffield band utilized so effectively on their initial album duo. In truth though, this was the sound of a band maturing with a confident and fearless attitude, and while Humbug is far from the Arctics best work, it deserves huge praise for shifting the band's tone with skill, allowing them to progress on the records that followed and in their future output, making it a majorly significant moment in the band's discography.
Best Tracks: My Propeller/Crying Lightning/Cornerstone
3. Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)
Following one of the greatest British debuts of the 21st century is no easy feat, but the band assured doubters that they were the real deal with Favourite Worst Nightmare just a year after their groundbreaking first album. Nightmare showed a greater awareness for melody and developing themes of emotion that were key to its success, as Alex Turner in particular proved he was far more than just a one trick songwriter with tender moments such as ''Only Ones Who Know'' and ''505'' complimenting the usual banger's such as ''Do Me A Favour'' and ''Teddy Picker''. Most impressively, the band's sophomore release avoided any kind of negative comparison with their earlier work while retaining an unmistakably Arctic Monkeys niche that satisfied old fans and won plenty of new followers.
Best Track: Fluorescent Adolescent/Only Ones Who Know/505
2. AM (2013)
Released to the public in September of last year, AM immediately took it's rightful place atop many critics and music fans lists for one of the best albums of the year, and it's no wonder why- it seemed that for all the searching the band had done over the course of Humbug and Suck It they had found a perfected, definitive sound that blended old and new Arctic Monkeys with silky smoothness and undeniable flair. It's a stellar work of music that can be built on, and crucially, feels like it surely will. Perhaps the best thing you could say about AM is that inspires belief that Arctic Monkeys will improve from here, and considering the previous albums mentioned that's quite a statement to make, and a truly exciting prospect.
When asked about the title pre-release, Alex Turner replied with a knowing smile, claiming he'd ripped it from the Velvet Underground's 1985 complilation VU: ''Did we cop out? Yeah, but something about it feels like this record is exactly where we should be right now. So it felt right just to initial it.'' It's an insightful comment, and while he might be laughing at the complacency of those initials himself, in reality, it couldn't have been named anything else.
That old rock'n'roll, eh?
Best Tracks: Do I Wanna Know?/R U Mine?/I Wanna Be Yours
1. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006)
For all the highs and hijinks that have come since, it really would be a major achievement for Arctic Monkeys to ever top their debut album. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not was hyped like no other album pre-release this decade and it delivered with style and then some on its arrival, landing with a splash that woke the rest of the country and sparked a rock revival similar to The Strokes in America.
The unconventional nature of the band's popularity through online sources such as MySpace was celebrated as a watershed moment in modern music and the significance of that statement is only truly setting in now as we see just how modern audiences have shifted in droves to the internet for their aural intake. But don't let that overshadow the raw brilliance of the music itself- Whatever was packed with the kind of intensity that can only be found in a hungry teenage band like the Monkeys were at the time, and their unsculpted passion resulted in a sound comparable to the Grunge and Britpop movements for its incomparable energy and force.
Buried within the guitars were the words of Alex Turner, bursting with wit, intelligence and an underlying apathy as he examined youth culture and society in Britain through the loose concept of a Saturday night and Sunday morning in Sheffield. The definitive track of the album, and the greatest moment of the band's career comes in ''A Certain Romance'', a tender reminiscence on the teenage years that Turner spent in the English suburbs long before he transformed into the greaser rock star we known him as today.
''There's only music so that there's new ringtones'' he laments about half way through the final track, and it's a painfully accurate description of the British rock music landscape at the time of his writing, before the likes of Arctic Monkeys came along and injected a sorely needed amount of soul into the industry with their brand of post-punk, garage rock on their stunning, and as yet unbeatable debut album.
Best Tracks: A View From The Afternoon/When The Sun Goes Down/A Certain Romance
Next Up: Kanye West