The biggest band in Britain is back

Ben Levy and Lily Roback

Since the Arctic Monkeys stepped onto the scene in England in 2005, they have demanded attention. From achieving numerous awards and acknowledgments, the rock band has always carried a personalized voice that built a recognizable brand and dedicated fanbase. Whether it was Alex Turner’s nostalgic and rapid-firing singing over records like Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not and Favorite Worst Nightmare, or shifting towards more cryptic and longing lyrics found on Humbug and Suck it and See, the Arctic Monkeys have been a staple in British entertainment. Their turbulent, refreshing take on the genre was a turning point for rock at the time, kicking in the door to become a British powerhouse, and introducing a nuanced version of what might have been considered forever ‘old people music.’

Then came their fifth record release in 2013, AM, which changed the trajectory of the band’s success. With Alex Turner’s seductive voice and signature 60’s inspired quiff and standout tracks like “Do I Wanna Know”, “R U Mine,” “I Wanna Be Yours” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High,” the band had found a new demographic and were at the peak of their popularity. 

This makes it all the more surprising when the band took a five-year hiatus to release their follow-up and sixth record, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. This album was completely different from anything the Arctic Monkeys had produced in their career, the album was recorded and demoed almost entirely by Alex Turner on piano, subverting expectations with their diehard fans being used to the previous gritty and heavy guitar work and not the psychedelic and lounge pop on this new record.

Their new project, The Car, was released on Friday, Oct. 21 to consistently favorable reviews. The album falls in line with their previous work, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, with a slow and serene style. Drummer Matt Helders notes that the project “picks up where the other one left off musically”, and this is certainly true. TC is soft, elegant and far more cautious than the band has been before. Although it carries a hint of sadness in contrast to the pure, blissful aura of Tranquility, The Car is a continuation nonetheless.  

Growing out of an underground, garage-rock, pub scene in northern England, the group has certainly come a long way stylistically. Although TBHC has received good reviews (although notably nowhere near their previous works), it was accepted with guarded skepticism. People were wary of the new sound, and the strange concept woven within. 

Despite the fact that the band’s initial fans from the early 2000s are maturing the same way the style is, the general age demographic of their base has remained the same. Young to middle-aged teens, filled with angst and suburban confusion. Thus, a disconnect with their new, elegant works is inevitable. It will never be that ferocious whirlwind of fast-paced youth again. Bands change, people change, music changes. Whatever People Say I Am…. was groundbreaking as a bunch of young people rocked with swagger and a starkly honest rendering of their lives in Northern London. They sang of cigarettes and drinks and romance. Tranquility Base… was equally groundbreaking as those rockers became wistful and aged, lounging in the freedom of their successes.

The aforementioned differences over the sound were also addressed, with Helders saying that “[the music is] never gonna be like ‘R U Mine’ and all that stuff again?” The track was one of the powerhouse singles from 2013’s AM. It’s grungy and raw, as vocalist Alex Turner, deeply entrenched in his love for someone, questions their position of reciprocity. Where their older works were rocking, this album is focused on the writing. AM spoke of luxuries, indulging in a hazy cloud of rockstar smoke. The cloud is all gone now, and the luxuries that once existed in words have manifested more in their sound. 

Songs embrace this new approach with ease though. They move between adjacent but unique styles across every track. The second, “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am,” features a warbling bassline from bandmate Nick O’Malley, as strings glisten in the background. A few tracks later, on “Body Paint,” we hear a beautiful composition as synthesizer notes ascend, the piano sings sadly and a surprisingly apt electric guitar hums with passion. All of this serves as a stunning backdrop for the pain and deject that Turner sings with. 

The reception to all of this, as we said, was unsure. Uncertain if this was the same Arctic Monkeys from the early aughts that shifted popular (and unpopular) rock, people were skeptical. But the group has never cared what people thought. Isn’t that the point? 

The new album certainly takes this sentiment in stride. It’s not hard to figure out that many of the lyrics are about their fans, and even easier to understand why. All of the aforementioned change is certainly addressed in the midst of the glitz and glamour of the project. The album also avoids the frequent topics of love and heartbreak from their prior works. The entire concept of “The Car,” as examined on the titular track, seems to be the downfall of something important; going to the car in the middle of a holiday, Turner’s lover doesn’t really want to be there. He senses the fraying of a relationship and can only mourn from a distance. Moreover, we can see this in his fans as well. He can see they checked out as the band continued to change, he understands the reception is different, but there’s not much he can do. They want AM again.

As Helders seemed to silently express in his comparison to older works, the band is not going back to that. The Car punctuates this, leaning heavily into the beautiful new sound. It extends itself further than their previous record was able to, and in the post-covid landscape of music, it seems far more welcome. The album has all the poise and poignancy of a lavish noir film. Lines like “A four-figure sum on a hotel notepad” or “Wardrobe’s lint-rollin’ your velveteen suit” ooze this attitude of opulence and extravagance. Although they may have deeper meanings, the mood created is ornate. It revels in its own luxury, while not taking itself too seriously. It avoids the pitfalls of similar big names in the recent year, and doesn’t sell itself short, nor out, for streams and sales. It’s authentic, creative, and a bloody good direction from an ever-progressing band.