It’s difficult to write objective journalism on the Arctic Monkeys - very few people are ‘indifferent’ to them. If you’re someone like me, the Monkeys were a pretty dominant force in your teenage years, providing the soundtrack for many evenings of underage drinking and youthful angst about not getting laid and not getting pissed. Others seem to dislike them precisely because of those years when their heels were on the neck of the mainstream, drowning out any other bands from the radio.
Wherever you stood, it’s apparent that everyone had certain ‘expectations’ of the Sheffield lads; expectations that were finally let down on Josh Homme produced Humbug. Arctic Monkeys’ third delivery, whilst still possessing some thrills, largely saw the shrinking of one of Britain’s largest fan bases. This was aptly pointed out to us by their Reading and Leeds festival headline slot, where the band played to a somewhat motionless crowd. Indeed, when finding yourself in that difficult third album position, do you “pull-an-Oasis” and give the people what they want, or choose artistic integrity, which usually means not giving the people what they want. It seems there was only one choice for Alex Turner, as he bellowed on early track ‘Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys’, “we’ll stick to the guns/ Don’t care if it’s marketing suicidal”.
And so, we find ourselves at the fourth release, Suck It And See. With expectations lowered we find considerably less pressure, but also with criticism easier to distribute. The album feels like an addition to a rock band’s catalogue, opposed to any particular statement; something the previous albums played with. This isn’t necessarily a band thing. Suck It And See is a collection of rock songs that the band can proudly add to their name and their live shows – a collection of solid songs that are both radio accessible and privately enjoyable. The tunes focus on the echoes of Humbug’s ‘Cornerstone’, a major key pop feast. So too can we hear ‘Crying Lightning’ and ‘Secret Door’ resonating, especially in single ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’. The difference is where Humbug chose obtuseness, Suck It And See chooses major key rock, a distinct move back to the tone of the critically acclaimed Favourite Worst Nightmare. Just watching how Turner and the boys carried themselves during their surprise appearance at Radio 1’s Big Weekend confirms their journey into becoming a rock bands with rock anthems, and this is exactly what Suck It And See is.
This isn’t to say the album is unquestionable. If we start with the title, Zane Lowe confronted them in an interview saying “that’s funny, right?” But I’m not too sure just how ‘funny’ they meant it to be, as the band have a reasonably long history of poor titles. The album artwork too seems to be a lazy attempt at minimalism, but really just ends up being quite unimaginative. Turner’s lyrics, what he’s most adored for, at times slip beyond comprehension or ingenuity; ‘Piledriver Waltz’ announces “I etched the face of a stopwatch on the back of a raindrop/ and did a swap for the sand in an hourglass”, which leaves most people shrugging their shoulders. Although consistent, a word that could be heavily affiliated with the album, the 12 tracks are a bit excessive. ‘All My Own Stunts’ feels like a pointless repeat of the previous song ’Library Pictures’ and hears Turner asking “put on your dancing shoes”, an almost cringe-worthy reference to their debut. Finally, release ‘Brick By Brick’ is a painstakingly obvious attempt to crack into the American market, which features dumbed down lyrics and sleazy guitar work.
Suck It And See is, however, still an impressive rock record. It’s certainly not a classic album, but it’s an excellent assortment of tunes that will get you throwing your Ray Ban’s on and driving a little faster. ‘She’s Thunderstorms’, ‘Black Treacle’ and ’Reckless Serenade’ are all major key treats that remind us of the charisma we pine for from Turner, whilst ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ and ’Library Pictures’ provide us with the kick that’ll slide in so perfectly with ‘Brianstorm’ and ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ in any set list. We get our anthem from ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’, which beautifully erupts and pulls to a halt. Closing track ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ wraps us in the warm nostalgia of ‘A Certain Romance’ and reconfirms that Turner’s craft is still as masterful as it ever was.
So, where Humbug presented us with a band that looked as if they’d lost their way, Suck It And See suggests that they are finally sure of their direction. That direction? To becoming rockstars, and this album is surely a move towards achieving that.