Monkeys get third-time lucky
c Radiohead took the world on full force with the triumphant release of OK Computer, vastly integrating electronic sounds into the very core of their sound and lyrics, completing the revisionary need of Thom Yorke, the band’s lead singer; Wilco became a sunny source of pop on Summerteeth, erasing the hereditary characteristics of the band’s predecessor, Uncle Tupelo; The White Stripes abandoned their low-fi roots to create a band based solely on the interplay of guitar, voice, and a simple drum rhythm; and now come the Arctic Monkeys with their new album, Humbug.
The Arctic Monkeys’ first album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, became the quickest-selling debut album in British history. This formula revolved around the mixture of sharp-hitting guitar clips surrounding lead singer Alex Turner’s vocals and the band’s slower tunes, which felt two-dimensional. This formula was stretched out with their sophomore album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, by introducing a darker aspect to the band while retaining a high-energy affair, but the album still felt somewhat stale in comparison.
Insert Humbug. What an interesting album. There is no sustained attack to the senses on the first track. Humbug defies the formula that catapulted the band to success. The album no longer attempts to stretch this formula out further and further until the sound becomes ultimately stale beyond belief, a la The Strokes. Humbug has taken the complex and irregular aspects, be they vocals, guitar, or bass lines, found within Whatever and has produced them into a state that is seemingly simpler, though Humbug resonates within the soul deeper and longer.
“Crying Lightning” is the epitome of Humbug. It starts slowly with a fairly simple beat and drum line, but this generic sound is transformed with the introduction of Turner. It differentiates the song from the binary formula of Whatever and Favourite by creating a building block on which the rest of the song adds until the cathartic release, as Turner carefully and repeatedly articulates the words “crying lightning.”
Turner’s new articulation marks the transformation of Arctic Monkeys. The band is no longer the amateur super-pop celebrities heard on Whatever, but has become the mature and contemplative complexity of Humbug.
There are still some quick songs, such as the great “Pretty Visitors” and the not-quite-good “Potion Approaching,” but they are airier and not immediately likable, as was Whatever. The hooks are gone, but the album rewards listeners by growing on them quickly.
The Arctic Monkeys have followed great bands by recreating their formula within the third album, but the best might be coming along the horizon. Radiohead followed their third album with the amazing album Kid A; Wilco with their best album in Yankee Hotel Foxtrot; The White Stripes became legends with Elephant. If the closing cacophony of sounds in the finale of Humbug, “The Jeweller’s Hands,” is any indication, the Arctic Monkeys might very well be on the right track.