The likely lads become wise men in this grown-up LP from the Sheffield quartet
'Are there some aces up your sleeve?', croons Alex Turner as viscous guitars and a loping drum beat curls around the opening track of the Arctic Monkeys latest offering, AM. As first impressions go, ‘Do You Wanna Know?’, suggests that the band, after the metamorphosis feel of their last two records, are indeed playing their Royal Flush.
AM does not have the raw punching energy of old that many still yearn for, but the simple fact is that the Arctics have grown up. They are no longer the tykes from Sheffield who thrust themselves to the echelons of British music like a bunch of toe-rags skipping the school bus queue. The trippy tones of Humbug and the forboding sense of the ordinary that oh so closely flirted with Suck it and See have given way to something sickeningly stylish, elegant, and fused together with the self-assurance that only comes with time.
Turner, now re-invented as a Buddy Holly-esque messiah, is as sharp as ever and, under his duck’s arse quiff, the brain still ticks like a neutron bomb – very much the people’s poet. His vocals still carry the sound of Sheffield, and there are moments that betray the band’s immensity, words snarled with pure Sheffieldian vitriol that charms just as easily as it did at the start.
The record flits in many directions; for example, on ‘Arabella’ there are moments of scything Black Sabbath guitar and simultaneously a vocal pattern that wouldn’t be out of place on a Beyonce track. It’s exhausting, yet luxurious. There is the lazy meander of ‘No 1 Party Anthem’ and the cathedral feel of ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ yet where the album shines the most is when the tempo is allowed to gallop. Matt Helders, whose wailing backing vocals feature heavily throughout, drives tracks such as ‘R U Mine’ with a tight, vehement march and his drumming is as nucleic here as it was on ‘Brianstorm’.
In AM, the Arctic Monkeys seem to have finally cast off the shackles of youthful insecurity that haunted them, and have finally come of age with a delightful and extravagant exploration of what was, until now, just out of reach. The likely lads are becoming the wise men.