Arctic Monkeys, AM

Maura Johnston

By Maura Johnston

on 09.10.13 in Reviews

Hangovers happen. The Arctic Monkeys — the brash British band led by the acid-voiced, silver-tongued Alex Turner — know this all too well. Their inaugural single hinged on a dancefloor fantasy; the lead single from their last album was hatched at a bar. The title of their fifth album, AM, could be seen as an attempt to get back to basics by going the acronymic route; but the bleary-eyed, moving-through-swamp feel makes it seem like a direction to play the album in the morning, preferably while you’re trying to figure out the coming hours through the headachy haze of what happened the night before.

A world-weary fifth effort that’s more than a scene-setter for dark times

The world-weariness of AM is akin to that possessed by other great rock records of 2013 (Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails). The woozy “No. 1 Party Anthem” pokes fun at the YOLO mentality, Turner delivering the titular phrase with ennui so deliberate as to make the curl of his sneer audible. “R U Mine?” is a stormy barnburner, its chugging guitars and ghostly backing vocals making Turner’s expressed desire to transcend the dissatisfaction offered by one-night stands all the more urgent. And the callbacks to “War Pigs” that offset the rapid-fire love poetry of “Arabella” serve as an explicit reminder that love can be a battlefield.

AM is not just a scene-setter for darker times, though. Turner’s lyrics are full of longing and wit, a combination made even more potent by his chainsaw of a voice; the band’s devotion to minor keys only increases the potency of the oohs and ahs that periodically descend from the heavens. Those moments of clarity provide a riposte to any “is that all there is” ennui; the answer is clearly no, if only because of the great music that results from bleakly honest surveillance of these depraved times.