Seatbelt securely fastened? Arctic Monkeys are back with their seventh studio album, The Car, which follows the mixed reception for their 2018 album Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, a lunar themed/sci-fi inspired project, which saw the band completely change direction – so far, in fact, they landed on the moon. Despite the album’s commercial success (debuting at number one in the UK) fans and many critics were left scratching their heads at the Artics sudden change in tune (pun intended). Fearing a Radiohead Kid A like party split, then, you’d probably expect them to do a quick U-turn and return to their tried and tested hit-making formula of the early AM days. But, instead, they’ve become bolder still and, this time, it’s worked. Returning to planet earth with a bump(er), The Car, is choc-full with self-reflection and nostalgia, and a gamechanger in more ways than one.
Take their first single and opening track: There’d Better Be A Mirrorball with its grandiose cinematic theme and sudden orchestral stabs, you could have sworn you were listening to a composition plucked directly from a Hans Zimmer 007 piece. On par with Alex Turner’s claim that “each record is sort of bleeding onto the next”, the crisp guitar licks which defined their indie-era seem permanently swapped for the later instrument of choice – piano. Turner’s half-spoken crooning vocals are warm and raw, perfectly matching the vulnerability of his heartbreak-hotel themed lyrics. As the track climaxes with Turner’s falsetto notes on “can we be absolutely sure that there’s a mirrorball for me?” we’re accompanied by the beautiful yet desperately melancholic string arrangement reminiscent of a film-noir soundtrack – time to reach for your hankies.
Next up is I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am, the album’s funky/soul-inspired third single. It is incredibly quirky to say the least – a 70s-style disco number where we hear old influences – David Bowie, cough, in his plastic soul era – one obvious reference. Featuring an unexpected mixture of Jimi Hendrix-like electric guitar grooves and sudden billowing strings a-la Bee Gees (think Saturday Night Fever), it certainly keeps you, well, very surprised.
Another album highlight is second single Body Paint – a beautiful baroque-pop ballad about romantic deception – “you’ve made yourself quite the bed to lie in”, Turner laments. He completely spoils us by making full use of his impressive range showcasing the change in his vocal style over the years. What makes the song special, however, is the sudden switch to a faster, more energetic sound with the help of a staccato string arrangement – so similar to The Beatles classic A Day In The Life you almost expected Turner to sing “woke up, fell out of bed”.
Although the Arctic’s paved the way for this remarkably sophisticated transformation on their previous album, this time they sound far more convincingly self-assured and, ultimately, accessible. What a return!
Writer and professional flautist Grace Twomey (MMus) performs regularly at gigs in South London where she’s based. All her areas of expertise include classical, pop, indie, latin and folk music.