Album Review: Arctic Monkeys “AM” (2013)

AM is the fifth studio release in seven years by the Arctic Monkeys, a pretty impressive feat for a band these days. As an album, it is their most diverse yet if not being the most un-Arctic Monkeys of their releases. On this new album the band have moved head first into a completely new area of music far removed from the indie rock sound which made them one of the best British bands of the 21st century so far. The music on AM is heavily influenced by hard rock, contemporary R&B and even hip-hop which ensured the listening experience for me was in many ways one of confusion. At times I could have been mistaken for thinking this was the new Queens of the Stone Age album, with a strong current of heavy guitars, pounding riffs and high falsetto vocals scattered throughout the album. Interestingly enough Josh Homme does, in fact, make an appearance on this album as a guest backing vocalist, and of course, helped to produce the band’s third album Humbug.

The album stars in a very heavy fashion with opening track “Do I Wanna Know?” a guitar-driven psychedelic rock track and “R U Mine?” a fast-paced song reminiscent of classic Black Sabbath. The influence of Sabbath and hard rock continues on “Arabella”, a song that includes a seismic-like guitar riff during the chorus that thunders through the speakers at you. At this point I found myself thinking since when were the Arctic Monkeys influenced by heavy metal, an influence that continues on “I Want It All” which contains a very heavy guitar riff in the vein of early Metallica. After an incredibly fierce start to the album, the middle section is much softer and melodic. “No. 1 Party Anthem” is a John Lennon (circa 1974) sounding song that features acoustic guitar and piano accompanying what is quite a beautiful soulful vocal delivery from Alex Turner. I would bet my bottom dollar this will be a cigarette lighter in the air song during concerts. This song is followed by “Mad Sounds” which is the softest song on the album amidst a haze of heavy rock and R&B styled tracks. This song to me felt like it could have come from David Bowie’s “Young Americans” and has an underlying Philly soul feel to it complete with a chorus full of ooh-la-la’s. The final section of the album begins with my favourite track the poppy psychedelic stomp “Snap Out of It” with its handclaps and incredibly catchy chorus, “Knee Socks” which as a song has a new wave feel to it with echoey guitars and yet more falsetto vocals, and finally album closer the R&B laced “I Wanna Be Yours” which is my least favourite song on the album and where I had a what were they thinking moment.

As far as criticisms go, there are a few aspects of this album which did not do it for me namely the R&B/hip-hop influences which in my opinion did not suit them and hopefully will not be seen again on future albums. I also found myself at times getting annoyed by the falsetto vocals which are dotted across the album. Yes, they work well on several tracks, but I do feel they ended up overdoing this a bit across the album as a whole. Finally, I also think this album is over-produced especially with the layers and layers of heavy guitars and multi-tracked vocals, which together at times feel like they are battling with each for supremacy on a particular song. There is a lot going on, on most of these songs and I feel many of them could have sounded better had they been a little less busy in places, and if the band had focussed more on getting the timbre right rather than the production.

So far AM has been well received by the critics on its release and has garnered plenty of positive reviews and ratings, with many in the music press commenting on the albums musically diverse nature and incorporation of styles that you wouldn’t usually associate with the Arctic Monkeys. Some have even gone on to say it is the bands best album, something I would not agree with as I still think their last release Suck It and See was better. However, I do applaud the band for trying to evolve their sound and attempt new things on this release, even if the results are not always perfect. There are some very good songs on here and a lot of interesting things going on in what is by in large a consistent album, but all in all, I am yet to be completely sold on the bands new sound. Despite this, I still think overall AM was an interesting listen and I would still recommend it if at least to see where the Arctic Monkeys are at after five albums, and what direction they could potentially be heading in the future.


– Sam


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