Suck It and See By The Arctic Monkeys
Some bands seem to come out of virtually nowhere and become massively popular over night. Here in the United States, bands like Nirvana, and more recently, the Strokes peeked their heads out from the obscure alternative underground and won over large audiences with massive and unanimously adored efforts. These artists were zeitgeists in rock and roll and their most popular releases had cast shadows of high expectations over their careers, making their next decisions highly watched and scrutinized by critics and fans alike.
The Arctic Monkeys had a very similar impact in England with their first official full-length release in 2006, Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not. Reportedly the fastest selling album in UK history, it moved 360,000 units within its first week and ended up going quadruple platinum; an incredible feat for such a young and relatively unknown band.
Another reason why the success of their first album was so unheard of was that the Arctic Monkeys brand of scrappy lyric-heavy post-punk was not a style one would call the most formulaic standard issue pop, and certainly not the type of music that is generally embraced by such a mass audience. The band had become the next big thing, and many wondered if they could follow such an important release or if they would disappear back into obscurity.
With their past two releases, the Monkeys have used Whatever People Say almost as a launching pad. With its overwhelming success as a young group, they were able to grow as a band under a magnifying glass, adding new and exciting textures to their overall sound. Many of their experiments since the time of their first release have benefited them altogether, especially on their last release, 2009’s Humbug.
On that record, the Arctic Monkeys were able to capture a new fuzzy psychedelic sound with help from Queens of the Stone Age mastermind Josh Homme as producer. This new direction paid off for the band, as they were able to blend in a new sound that had been previous unheard in their first two records, breathing life into the band and creating a new sense of curiosity within their listeners when regarding their next effort.
On their new release, Suck It and See, rather than continue down a path of experimentation, The Arctic Monkeys find themselves returning to a somewhat similar sound as the one that garnered them so much acclaim. Ditching the murky tones and riff-heavy compositions of Humbug, Suck It and See focuses primarily on the strengths of the Monkey’s chief songwriter, Alex Turner, as a lyricist. Not a bad aspect to spotlight as Turner has always been able to pen clever and astute lyrics, dropping numerous quotable phrases typically within a single verse.
This album is no exception, as songs like “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” ( “She makes me want to take the batteries out of my mysticism and put them in my thinking cap”) and “Reckless Serenade” (“Called up to listen to my voice of reason and got his answering machine”) are chock full of witty one-liners. But as more attention has been put into the shaping of the words to each number, the urgent energy has gone missing from their musical arrangements, as the album tends to float on in a mid-tempo cruise control from beginning to end. A very different pace for a band that has been known to rely on it’s jittery tempos, a trait that had set them apart from the heard of Brit-pop acts as well as the larger indie rock community. Here, the band comes off sounding like a cross between Oasis and the Pixies only without the attitude needed to kick things into gear.
Aside from the sleepy rhythms that dragSuck It and See down, the songs on this collection lack the catchy hooks and standout singles of their previous releases. Although many songs contain Turner’s biting tongue, the wit and vigor displayed in the verses usually dies down in the chorus resulting in melodies that sound rather phoned in and uninspired.
Songs like “Black Treacle” and “Piledriver Waltz” fall victim to this formula, as the build up in each is negated by the outcome that follows. This, however, works for the Wire-esque shape-shifter “Library Pictures”, the only song that provides a speedy tempo to be found on Suck It and See. But as it starts out with intensity it only stays on each section for so long until it changes completely.
Altogether, Suck It and See is not as rewarding an effort as the Arctic Monkey’s previous albums. It is also disappointing that such a unique and interesting new band has decided to settle in a broad currant of countless indie-rock acts rather than make their own waves. For what seems like an act that will have a long and fruitful career, the Arctic Monkeys have offered a lackluster album with Suck It and See, one that will have few selections fans will think back on or will hope for when seeing them on the road.
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