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The Ideas Behind the Artist: Arctic Monkeys

On Tuesday, August 2nd, Arctic Monkeys performed their first show since April 2019. As evidenced by this concert, the band’s performances continually evolve to reflect and enhance each release, allowing fans to experience the complete expression of their latest album. From the stage’s glittering mirrorball to frontman Alex Turner’s jewel-toned suits, this current tour sets the stage for the group’s long-awaited seventh album, The Car, out on October 21st.

With three songs revealed so far, The Car appears to be the group’s most experimental record yet. “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball” features suspenseful and dramatic strings, contrasting with Turner’s reflective lyrics and romantic vocals. “Body Paint” is a falsetto-laden track kept down to earth by Nick O’Malley’s muted, melodic bass part, while “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am,” sports a funky wah sound with plastic soul-esque vocals.

Regarding the upcoming album, Turner has recognized The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and film editor Walter Murch as influences on the band’s approach to production. Sonically, the group has referenced the film scores of David Axelrod- composer, arranger, and producer of the 1960s-70s- in concocting the record’s cinematic and evocative sound.

Arctic Monkey's latest album "The Car" releases Friday, October 21st

Prior to The Car, the band’s 20-year catalog evidences many changes in the Arctic Monkeys’ style and influence. The group clearly possesses creativity in their own right, but draws from a varied assortment of inspirations when crafting their own sound. From their punky debut to their expansive fifth record, the band has cited a plethora of inspirations in shaping each iteration of their sound. In anticipation of this Friday’s release, let’s explore the musicians, films, and environments that have molded the Arctic Monkeys’ sound into what it is today.

The group’s first two album cycles are best summarized through “Live in Texas,” a surprisingly local (Stubbs Bar-B-Q) 2006 performance of debut album tracks and pre-album singles. Opening with slow-jam “Riot Van” and finishing with fan favorite “A Certain Romance,” the band thoroughly reflected their Sheffield roots, singing about truncheons and tracky bottoms over upbeat indie-rock music. Heavily inspired by British indie-rockers The Strokes and The Vines, the record’s sound is intensely upbeat and charmingly unrefined.

The title of their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not somewhat summarizes its sardonic narrative style. Analyzing and retelling stories of Sheffield nightlife, Turner portrays various sides of the city and the distinctive individuals residing there. Written from the perspective of a participant rather than an observer, the stories feel comfortingly representative of everyday life, recounting abundant details and referencing local landmarks.

Following the band’s transfer into young adulthood, 2009’s Humbug led the group into the realm of post-punk revival, with tracks more comparable to Interpol than to Maximo Park. Inspired by The Velvet Underground, Nick Cave, and Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, Arctic Monkeys adopted a sultry and mysterious sound defined by prog-rock solos, oblique lyrics, and a rounded-out rhythm section. Most notable was the change in lyricism, going from observational documentation to abstract, reflective musings on love, social life, and celebrity. Surrounded by desert landscapes and vintage saloons, their time in Josh Homme’s California Joshua Tree Studio encouraged the record’s dark, mystical sound and permanently transformed the Monkeys’ image.

Two years later, Suck it and See continued the band’s use of softened vocals and western imagery, most notable on “All My Own Stunts,” a cowboy-inspired track reminiscent of drifting, despondent, early 1960s country music. However, outside of these recurrent themes, Suck it and See marks a major departure from the wordy writing of previous records. Catchy and lighthearted lyrics prove the Monkeys’ ability to explore more playful songwriting while maintaining a poetic style. The lyrics contain a tongue-in-cheek charm inspired by Lou Reed, George Jones, and Gene Clark, while, sonically, the band utilizes vintage guitar tones and punchy bass to craft a nostalgic and summery sound influenced by The Pixies, Beach Boys, and Patsy Cline.

2013’s AM brought Arctic Monkeys to a striking level of worldwide fame, most visibly expanding their recognition in America. Accordingly, this record captures the rhythms of Dr. Dre, Outkast, and the Wu-Tang clan, while also employing the riffy rock of Black Sabbath and T. Rex. The album centers on unlikely pairings, influenced by the band’s varied musical interests and desire to continually evolve their sound. Fusing the vintage sentiments of Barbarella, Fellini, and Mean Streets with the newer, “sounds good in the car,” catchiness of modern hip-hop, the record appeals to current American audiences while also incorporating layered classic references.

Most recently, 2018’s lush, loungy Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino openly demonstrates the band’s penchant for film, literature, and cultural ideology. This record utilizes a more expansive sound to reflect its larger-than-life concept: an interplanetary hotel and casino hosting a group of eccentric guests. This imaginative theme serves as both a stylistic choice, and a jumping-off point for Turner’s observations on sci-fi media and technological social theories. From Neil Postman’s “Information Action Ratio,” to Fassbinder’s World on a Wire, the record frequently references discussions of technological determinism and artificial intelligence, questioning the role of tech in society and remarking on its apparent unsexiness. With a sound inspired by Roubaix’s Le Samourai score and Gainsbourg’s History de Melody Nelson, the record masquerades as an obscure 70s film score rooted in jazz and psychedelia. In this way, Tranquility Base plays less like a contemporary rock album, and more as a stylized collection of experimental poetry, built on fifteen years worth of the band’s inspirations.

Arctic Monkeys’ albums reference an abundance of inspirations, from films, to literature, to social theories. The release of The Car this Friday is sure to add diversity to the contemporary music sphere and to Arctic Monkeys’ already dynamic catalog.


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